Last night, CVM TV’s Live at Seven had a very interesting segment featuring excepts from the new Caribbean Human Development Report 2012. The new report focuses on the problem of crime and violence in the Caribbean, also the basis of the CVM segment. I am glad that a more nuanced national conversation about crime is taking root. One that focuses on facts and solutions. I agreed with many of the comments of the invited discussants.
Admittedly, it was a short segment. However, what I think would have made it an exceptional one was more specifics about the impact of the problem on our country and ‘how’ do we as a society effectively tackle it. What’s the how? Recommending repairing family structures is not the how. That’s the what. The how are the strategies and mechanisms we use to accomplish this objective.
So I am going to do a three part series (this is the first part), looking at some of the agencies involved in peace-building efforts (next week), and how they are doing it (the week after that). Let’s start with a mini situational analysis. Here are some other facts that should make all Jamaicans uncomfortable:
- In 2008, Jamaica’s homicide rate of 52.1/100,000 made us a world beater. This was far higher than both South Africa (33.8/100,000) and Columbia (33.4/100, 000) (UNODC 2011).
- The standard international definition of a war or high-intensity conflict is violence characterized by fatality rates of over 1,000/year; in Jamaica, 1,574 people were murdered in 2007 (UNDP, 2008).
- Young males are vastly over-represented in official statistics as both victims and perpetrators of crime and violence (McClean and Blake Lobban, 2009, p. 9).
- Violence-related injuries (VRIs) accounted for over 38,000 visits to accident and emergency units of Jamaican hospitals island wide in 2005. The estimated cost of patient care for VRIs in 2006 was J$ 2,100 million (UNDOC, 2008, p. 99).
- VRIs accounted for 12% of Jamaica’s total health expenditure in 2006 (Ward et al 2009).
- It is estimated that by reducing its homicide rate to 8 per 100,000 Jamaica could boost economic growth per capita by 5.4 percent per annum (World Bank, 2007, p. 59).
- Crime has a particularly deleterious impact on productivity, which locks the country into a low growth, higher crime spiral.
- Easy access to illegal weapons is a significant escalator of crime and violence (Leslie, 2010, p. 41).
Given all this, should we just give up? Not at all! Our high rates of crime are not automatic, but the outcome of a confluence of factors. If we tackle these factors, crime will go down. The late Professor Chevannes advised that ‘with concerted action from the affected communities and sectors of the wider society, violence can be effectively dealt with and overcome.’ Never was I more convinced of this than when I evaluated best practices in violence prevention late last year. I was struck by the dedication of the people who work in these programmes and in awe of how they accomplished so much with so little.
From academic and parenting support through to grief counselling, these programmes offer clear lessons regarding how to effectively reduce violence. Where will we find the cash to tackle the gaps one of the hosts asked. The foregoing statistics mean that we cannot afford not to find the cash.
After the national trauma of May 2010, we are again at a crossroads. While crime suppression activities absolutely have their place, Jamaica is not going to achieve a sustainable, long-term decline in our rate of violent crime by relying on these types of activities alone. We will have to be far more strategic about preventative interventions. I’ll touch on that next week.