Since 2016 more than 4,000 individuals across the island with no source of income have been charged with committing serious crimes.
Data obtained by the Jamaica Observer from the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) shows that a total of 4,260 unemployed people were charged with murder, shooting, and breaching the Firearms Act from 2016 to October 2021. The group accounts for 45 per cent of a total 9,306 charges across all occupations over the identified period.
Of the 4,260 unemployed people charged, 28 per cent were charged with murder, 22 per cent with shooting with intent, and 50 per cent for breaching the Firearms Act.
And, across all three areas, 941 of the charges were levied in 2016; 1,056 in 2017; 982 in 2018; 711 in 2019; 300 in 2020; and 270 in 2021, thus far.
The year 2017 represents a record high number of charges for shootings and breaching the Firearms Act with 247 and 505, respectively.
Immediately behind the unemployed category, labourers trail with 2,117 people being charged across the three areas since 2016. Murder accounts for 605 charges; shooting, 398; and breaches of the Firearms Act, 1,114.
The farming community represents the third highest number of those charged with serious crimes. Those numbers are outlined in a related article in this publication.
Social anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle, who is based at The University of the West Indies, told the Sunday Observer that there are “ontological security benchmarks” that guarantee a sense of stability for individuals. This includes food, a sense of safety, a support system, and training or education. If absent, Gayle said, people may be pushed to crime.
Gayle further explained that, if unemployed individuals had a healthy support system around them, it would make a huge difference as there wouldn't be as much burden on them.
“For example, a man who has a very supportive woman is very much less likely to commit a violent crime than a man who has an extremely demanding woman rather than a support system. And, if you have the mother, father, everybody around making sure you're alright, chances are you won't do any harm. But, if they depend on you and make you into the primary breadwinner, even though you're not employed, that is where the problem is going to be.”
Another factor that gives impetus to a violent temperament, he said, is a lack of education.
“You don't have training and you're not provided a skill by the society or by your family or by yourself. So, you are unskilled or you are unemployable and there is no demand for your unskilled self. This is what the late Professor Headley called 'economic-driven violence,' because it is not that the person wants to. There are some people that, if you give them the resources, they will not commit crime, while other persons are just inherently wicked,” he said.
Gayle told the Sunday Observer that the bulk of the people who are committing violent crimes fall under the group “resource evil.”
“They are going to hunt a food. In Jamaica we say 'eat a food.' The yute on the corner say him a go eat a food.” he said.
“The mother is number one. The number one demand on these young men is their mothers. If mummy is okay, the second group is his sister and the third group is his little brother. And, even if a man is working and feels like a slave and his mother and siblings are okay, he will not hurt anybody. But, if demands pile up and you already lack ontological security, somebody is going to get hurt,” Gayle continued.
To paint a more lucid picture, he introduced the scenario with a young man, Johnny, at the centre. Johnny's mother is stuck with him while the father is either in prison, dead or irresponsible.
“Johnny is unemployed and unemployable and mommy doesn't need to say anything. The society teaches Johnny that the person he must be most loyal to is his mother. So mother has something called legitimacy. Mothers can all see you inna Cross Roads and box you up and you can't do nothing about it because it's your mother. On top of that, mothers deserve the legitimacy more than fathers,” he said, citing research that he said identifies mothers as two times as deserving of legitimacy than fathers.
Labourers are referred to as people doing unskilled manual work for wages.
Former Opposition Senator and economist Dr Andre Haughton told the Sunday Observer to elevate people from that category Jamaica has to improve its human capital, which includes assets like education, training, intelligence, skills, health, and other things employers value.
“What the research has shown is that a low level of output per person is particularly influenced by our level of human capital, as well as the level of corruption in the country. And because a large percentage of our labour force don't have any form of qualifications, it means that the labour that we employ is really basic and primary level and, as a result, we cannot increase the amount of output per person. We need to increase the level of knowledge among our working class,” he said.
“Only 13 per cent of our labour force has passed the degree level or higher, which is roughly 155,000 out of 1.2 million. To create a knowledge economy and to make knowledge useful to your economy, you need at least 50 per cent of your population to have a degree.”
Haughton argued that, when one is unskilled, it makes it difficult for him to legitimately earn a high income.
“The jobs that are afforded to you, you don't have the qualification. If you want to live a high standard of living and you can't get this from working, then it will force you to exercise your entrepreneurial abilities. Research has shown that entrepreneurs and criminals have the same level of thinking. So, if it doesn't work out in a legitimate fashion, then, more than likely, it will work out in an illegitimate fashion.”
At the same time, he said, “It is not only unskilled people in Jamaica or across the world who are prone to crime. In economics we have a saying called 'non-satiation of wants' where more is always preferred to less. So, it doesn't matter how much individuals have at their disposal. They will still want more. And some look at it as by any means necessary.”
Haughton, however, said that, with the novel coronavirus pandemic pushing many people out of jobs because of the attendant economic turmoil, more people may flood the labourer category in coming years.
“It is going to have a negative impact on the output of the country, and because it is a health pandemic where social distancing is a main part of the eradication process, then a lot of students will be disadvantaged. Based on my semi-structured interviews with principals and teachers, roughly 50 per cent of students are accounted for on the online classes and within daily face-to-face attendance.
“That other 50 per cent, we have to figure out how we are going to capture them and help them not to fall into the lower-academic ranking. We will have to find some type of after-school programme, some type of inclusive programme to facilitate them learning what they need to learn in order to participate wholesomely in the labour market. When there's a crisis, what it does is that it forces the economy to really think about how we recover from this crisis.”
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