Mandatory clinical psychological assessment of convicts proposed
Dr Orlean Brown-Earle

PROFESSOR of psychology at the Northern Caribbean University, Dr Orlean Brown-Earle, is proposing that the island's judicial system implements mandatory clinical psychological assessments of individuals who are convicted of violent crimes.

Brown-Earle was speaking on the backdrop of Jamaica's long-running problem with violent crimes, which has seen the island recording alarming murder rates over several years.

She told the Jamaica Observer that clinical psychological assessments of individuals who are convicted of violent crimes could lead to a reduction in the annual numbers.

“How else can we rehabilitate, or understand what's really going on in their minds? That's a big and important part. Clinical social workers can do the primary part of that evaluation and if they realise that it is chronic, they refer them to the psychologist and the psychiatrist. But I think investment in clinical social workers in the judicial system will be very helpful,” said Brown-Earle as she argued that more professional rehabilitation programmes, such as skills training, are also needed.

“What we want is early intervention, so as soon as we recognise there is a problem, we need to act. I think social workers have the greatest role and can reach out to individuals. What kind of help do we give the person, what kind of follow-up happens post jail?”

According to Brown-Earle, post-incarceration, the authorities should ensure that they are following up with these individuals in an effort to prevent them from becoming repeat offenders.

The professor underscored the importance of providing adequate employment opportunities for these individuals after they have served their time.

“The socio-cultural background, and what you go back into, plays a role in becoming repeat offenders. Because if you only have to go back to that yard where everybody is a gangster and people are happy when you come back with stuff and everybody can eat, and they don't ask where the money is coming from, they're going to do the same thing again to provide for those who show that they love and care for you,” Brown-Earle stated.

“What we must recognise is that once an individual grows up in any environment in which they, daily, see persons being hurt or harmed, it's going to cause them to present with many behaviours,” added Brown-Earle.

Stressing the importance of proper parenting, she explained that criminal behaviour can start with depression, when children become sad and don't have control over there action.

“Then it can go to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), then the individuals who are actually being hurt or harmed... can develop a number of defence mechanisms. There can be anxiety, there can be a lot of stressors that will present themselves, and then the health consequences also vary depending on the age,” she said.

Brown-Earle argued that the defence mechanism can manifest in these children who grow up in volatile areas in many ways, including through acts of violence or rage.

“Their well-being now is going to be associated with the crime and the difficult human situation that they face. Then the type of anxiety now will also depend on the age and gender of the individual. For example, with children, we might see more depression from anxiety, and with the adults, you'll see more PTSD and suicidal ideation, and then the stressor can also cause cardiovascular disease and premature mortality. Once you're a victim of violence, these health effects — mental and physical — can be cumulative,” Brown-Earle stated.

In the meantime, social anthropology lecturer at The University of the West Indies, Mona Dr Herbert Gayle said that thousands of Jamaicans live in an inner-city or a community with “inner-city characteristics”, and these communities account for over half of the country's homicides.

“That's the most vulnerable area and that is the area that has the least opportunities. The Government has been focused on the tertiary, meaning the visibles and the things that give immediate impact. They are beginning to see that you have to look at violence long term. They've made the statements, we need to see it in action now,” Gayle told the Observer.

He argued that change will not come from zones of special operations or states of emergency.

“It has to come from providing them with greater training opportunities in schools, making sure that they have better facilities — these are called primaries. Once the country embarks on 15 years of primaries, our murder rate will begin to go down,” said Gayle.

He noted that out of the number of homicides in Jamaica, nine per cent are females and 91 per cent are male, with 1.78 per cent being as a result of domestic violence.

“I will not ignore the 1.78 per cent, as in 25 per cent out of the 1,624 people who die per year in Jamaica on average. I will speak about the 25 per cent of women who are killed by a man in a relationship every year. But I will also speak about the 91 per cent. Eighty per cent of that group falls between the age of 15 and 64 years old, 50 per cent of that group falls between the age of 15 and 34 years old. Those are called youths and extended youths, half of the people who die in Jamaica come from that group and they make up 70 per cent of those who kill people,” added Gayle.

“Everyone of us who say we are trying to work on violence have to begin to take that group into consideration. We have to speak about every single group that's involved and in violence studies to start talking about your biggest group first — young people, people who have been ignored,” he said.

Adding that the sting of slavery has taught Jamaicans that violence is effective, Gayle said: “In the Jamaican context, we have the fourth average highest homicide rate since the year 2000... and it means, therefore, that we are extremely violent. At Independence, we were only four per 100,000. We have 12 times more homicides now, but that was expected because now we have to shift from being governed to [governing ourselves], and in that political transition it does take a while.”

According to Gayle, the country has not been addressing the needs of the people effectively. He said the Government has been dealing with the violence itself, which is the symptom of a larger problem.

“In other words, if a person beats you up all the time you'll genuinely learn how to beat up yourself, and we're in that process of beating up ourselves. We've been using hard-line policing, that sounds like beating up yourself, we've been using all forms of suppression,” Gayle stated.

BY CANDICE HAUGHTON Observer staff reporter

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