Lisa Hanna wrote two insightful articles recently in the Jamaica Observer about personality disorders and the impact on crime and violence in Jamaica. This is not the first time Hanna has spoken about these issues.
In 2013, as minister of youth and culture, Hanna raised the issue of mental disorders and the impact on behavioural problems among children in Jamaica at a Gleaner forum.
Hanna does have a point, but the deeper issue and root cause of crime, violence, and antisocial behaviour is poverty. Youth going before the courts and into State centres are primarily coming from poor communities. How many are from middle class, educated families?
We cannot ignore the socio-economic factors at the very root of these problems. Poverty, which equates to a lack of basic resources, will generally lead to poor education, inadequate parenting skills, and lack of family values, which creates other problems. It’s a vicious cycle which feeds into mental disorders and antisocial behaviour.
Providing counselling with scientific approaches might offer some benefits in specific cases, but this is hardly enough (or practical) to deal with the problem at a national level over the long term.
We must provide outlets to enable more individuals to break the cycle of poverty. I’ve always maintained that culture and sports are tools at our disposal which have been underutilised. We need investments in sports and culture to provide regular and ongoing mentorship, training, and programmes to hone skills and talent and nurture social interaction and self-worth. We need ongoing opportunities, not just seasonal ones. Sports and culture will provide a distraction, they relax and de-stress.
There are countless studies on the causes of crime and violence from people very qualified to speak on these topics. In Jamaica, we don’t need anymore studies or statistics or quotes from consultant psychiatrists and professors to tell us what we already know. What is needed is meaningful solutions aimed at reducing poverty and creating equality and economic opportunities.
I don’t believe anyone is surprised to know that most criminals experience violence and abuse as children. We also know that criminals tend to be young males and repeat offenders. We know that crime has an economic cost; it is an impediment to development. We also know that Jamaica has one of the highest murder rates in the world and our violent tendencies is well known throughout the Caribbean.
But we are still not using what we already know to help curb crime.
Why does Barbados, for instance, a country with one of the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in the region and a highly educated population have virtually no crime?
The questions we should be asking, 60 years post Independence, is: What have we done over the decades to deal with the cycle of poverty and the link to crime in Jamaica?
Government has a responsibility to keep people safe and stimulate the economy to enable greater equality. Too many of our citizens live in extreme poverty, they become marginalised and invisible to those on the outside and ultimately many become criminals.
Until there is greater social and economic intervention and equality, with specific projects with specific goals, we will continue to use Band-Aid fixes and continue to write about the topic.
There are many people who endured mental issues as youth who were able to break the cycle and improve themselves economically and otherwise. Others are not so lucky, and they remain stuck and in need of help.
We have enough studies and statistics to know that Jamaica has a very serious socio-economic problem at the root of criminality which requires urgent attention.