Jamaica too soft on criminals
Regional study shows most locals want harsher punishment for lawbreakers
ANDERSON... I agree that we are actually quite soft, but the answer is a little more complex than just changing one aspect of it, which is making laws stronger

The overwhelming majority of Jamaicans surveyed by Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) say criminals are being given too many slaps on the wrist as punishment but at the same time are uncomfortable that employers discriminate against individuals with criminal records.

The finding is one of several highlighted in the 2021 report of the LAPOP Lab — a centre of excellence for international survey research — which was released on Wednesday at The University of the West Indies, Mona in St Andrew.

According to LAPOP researchers who surveyed 20 countries in the region, "Jamaicans overwhelmingly want more severe punishment of criminals, but they also believe that criminals face discrimination."

According to LAPOP, 76 per cent of Jamaicans or over two thirds, "strongly agree" that criminal punishment should increase with one in 10 (11 per cent) disagreeing.

However, 63 per cent of Jamaicans said they also agree that employers discriminate against people with criminal records.

According to LAPOP, one source of distrust among the public toward police and the judicial system more broadly could be linked to how Jamaicans perceive the treatment of criminals.

"For example, some may believe that too many people who commit crimes go unpunished. At the opposite end of the spectrum some may believe that the judicial system is too harsh toward those who are accused of or convicted of crimes," it said.

On Wednesday Commissioner of Police Major General Antony Anderson, commenting on the issue, said the finding is one that has been reoccurring.

"The whole attitude towards punishment of criminals, every survey I have seen says in Jamaica we are soft on our legislation on crime and criminals, but I think perhaps there is a more sophisticated view that we would take. I agree that we are actually quite soft, but the answer is a little more complex than just changing one aspect of it which is making laws stronger," he said.

"We have issues like recidivism, if we are putting persons away what happens to them over that period because when they come out you don't want them to be back to their old ways but to do different things," the police commissioner noted.

"There are studies that show that sentences below a certain amount, your chances of rehabilitation drop off significantly so you would need enough time to do rehabilitation and facilities to do it. More importantly the intention to do it is imperative," Major General Anderson stated, noting that currently Jamaica's recidivism rate is about 42 per cent.

"This means I am guaranteed every year about 500 plus persons who are going to come out and commit a crime that is more violent than what they did before. That is guaranteed, if I can't drop that number, that's another problem," he told the group.

In the meantime, LAPOP said while Jamaica scored lowest in the region for the rate of crime victimisation and feelings of insecurity out of the 20 countries surveyed, some explanation is still needed given that there is still a high level of concern about crime.

Noting that the high concern but low actual victimisation pattern may be understood in terms of the structure of crime victimisation LAPOP said crime is a key concern for Jamaicans.

"Half of all citizens identify personal security as the top issue facing the country even more than the COVID-19 pandemic, economic hardship and political issues like corruption. This represents the highest share out of all countries studied in the 2021 AmericasBarometer," it said..

Furthermore LAPOP said nearly one in five Jamaicans feel insecure in their neighbourhood with its estimates indicating that one in fourteen has been a victim of a crime in the past year. It said almost a quarter of the Jamaican people, and more than a third of those in Kingston feel that gangs have at least some influences in their neighbourhood. In the meantime, it said concern about neighbourhood gangs have dropped since 2019. According to LAPOP, in 2021 that concern is concentrated in the greater Kingston area.

The police commissioner commenting on that finding said, "having looked at it, it raised as many questions, because in one sense your victimisation rate is the lowest, most people will say that can't be but it is what it is, the victimisation is the lowest of the 20 countries. And then in terms of how people feel in their own space in the neighbourhood with 82 per cent feeling they are safe, is interesting because anecdotally you will say that can't be the case," he reasoned.

"But that's what the survey actually says, so you have two figures here but at the same time the greatest concern is about crime and security matters which is at the top. I am sure there are many discussions that can be had about why this is so, why you have extreme contrast. The question is, what's causing that," he stated.

The current report presents the findings of the ninth in a series of biennial cross-national, political culture studies known collectively as the AmericasBarometer.

This report focuses on Jamaica which has been surveyed in the last eight AmericasBarometer rounds.

Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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