Opinion: How the diaspora can help reduce crime in Jamaica

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Recently I was on a call to explore the intricacies of diaspora engagement. In my preparation for the dialogue, I wanted to be sure I could explain Diaspora Engagement before going on the show.

Three of the more popular definitions of diaspora engagements for Jamaica are:

1) The Government of Jamaica is developing measures aimed at establishing, maintaining or developing a relationship with their diaspora living abroad (Global Jamaica Diaspora Council, (GJDC) and Strategy;


#2) a cross-sectoral sharing of skills and resources by migrated Jamaicans to effectively support national development in their original homelands (Diaspora Movement (DM).

Finally, migrated Jamaicans work together in their host country to advance themselves in their jobs, political leadership and community to build the Jamaica brand globally (Diaspora Community Development).

I was happy to join the Mek Wi Talk Show for a one-on-one discussion on diaspora engagement. However, I was surprised when the host said others would be joining; three others did. I didn’t mind that though, because every opportunity to chat with other key figures in the diaspora is another opportunity to focus the message on diaspora engagement. After an hour and a half I had to leave the show and go back to work. When I left the show, I had to further research the topic of crime in Jamaica because there wasn’t enough time to adequately think about it. It’s an important topic, that’s why I decided to write this article.

Just before I ended the conversation, discussions turned to how the diaspora could help reduce crime in Jamaica. Of course, strategy #2 (above) on diaspora engagement applies. This approach is where the diaspora can help provide some guided, planned and approved resources to help police leadership think about innovative solutions that will work. Such an intervention is expected to be carried out only by the country’s security forces.

One panelist asked me about my solutions to reducing Jamaica’s high crime rate. With limited time, as an educator I knew that solving crime is a difficult solution due to scarce resources. However, I responded with a long-term solution, the most effective and sure way: using learning resources that are already present on the job and require minimal additional input. However, it would take some time for such a unique approach to work. I outlined some strategies, starting at the preschool level, explaining the benefits of “bending the tree the way you want it to grow.” However, the best way to reduce crime is to provide education and other practical deterrence strategies to prevent people from committing crimes. My suggestion should have been welcome. Instead, another solution was offered.

Many in the criminal justice community know that Jamaica has a major crime problem and will struggle to effectively reduce crime quickly. It won’t be ‘overnight’. It took New York City many years to bring serious crime, which was high between the 1970s and 1990s, to a manageable level. Still, there are complaints from the community about the high crime rate. Reducing crime today requires enormous resources, the adoption of crime theories, and the application of deliberate strategies that will have a deterrent effect.

The solution my colleague offered in exchange for a crime solution on the Mek Wi Talk Show is that “indicting corrupt public and elected officials will reduce crime.” By the way, the next day I heard that another theory was making the rounds and being discussed throughout Jamaica: “Stricter and mandatory minimum sentences will reduce crime.” I disagree with both theories, as do the majority in the arena of criminology and criminal justice. There is no evidence to support either theory.

First, there is no statistically significant relationship between indicting corrupt politicians and reducing crime. Such activities are complex and nuanced. They are also rare because politicians often control the police, prosecutors, courts and legal systems, making it difficult to hold them accountable. Some challenges in prosecuting politicians include the complexity of corruption crimes, weak penalties compared to other crimes, a lack of specialized law enforcement knowledge and capacity, and insufficient coordination between agencies.

Filing lawsuits against corrupt state officials as a deterrent requires overcoming challenges such as excessive resource demands. You will need a lot of money for lawyers and court costs because solving it will take many years. The prosecuting individual or organization will require specialized training to obtain appropriate approvals and interagency coordination. After such cases are concluded, a reduction in high crime is not guaranteed. In the United States, such lawsuits are usually dismissed anyway because the courts ruled that this would distract the president from duties and responsibilities. There is no evidence for a direct link between crime reduction and indicting politicians.

Likewise, research does not support that strict mandatory minimum sentences for murder or illegal gun possession lower violent crime rates. It is common knowledge that people who commit crimes do not know or care about the law. Today, courts around the world still apply the thoughts of Cesare Beccaria (the father of criminology), whose 1864 treatise on Crime and Punishment called for the law to stop using excessive punishment for crimes. He thought those laws were too cruel and prehistoric. Beccaria believed that the punishment should fit the crime. He also believed in creating a balanced system of deterrence and punishment with a three-pronged approach: certainty, speed and severity of punishment. First, for deterrence to work, each person must believe that if he commits a crime, the punishment (e.g., conviction) is “certain.”

Prosecutors must have a solid case that they can present to the court for conviction and sentencing, to be specific and certain. Second, citizens must also believe that such punishment will be swift (celerity). Once the court has convicted someone, he or she is immediately punished; there is no waiting. Prisoners need to know why they are being punished and associate their punishment with the crime they committed. Finally, the punishment is proportionate to the crime. In Retributive Justice (Beccaria), statutory punishment requires that the perpetrator receive a punishment for a crime proportionate or comparable to the crime.

Studies in New York and Massachusetts show no clear evidence of a reduction in homicide rates in their strict mandatory minimum laws, and the laws do not make citizens’ fears safer. One of the significant disadvantages of mandatory minimum sentences is an explosion in the prison population and an increase in costs to the state for infrastructure and maintenance. Does Jamaica have the money? We need to think more about deterring crime than responding to crime. Excessive punishment is senseless, cruel, expensive and not rehabilitative.

The most practical ways the diaspora can help reduce crime is by addressing the underlying factors that contribute to crime, such as lack of access to health care, behavioral health problems, education and environmental pollution.

To provide direct assistance to law enforcement, the diaspora must also acquire advanced knowledge in criminal law and criminology, by consistently offering their assistance to the Ministry of National Security, the Police Federation, the Police Academy and other police organizations, and to help target deterrence and policing strategies within the country’s policing plan. These strategies include problem-oriented policing that focuses on high-risk places, offenders, and victims, analyzing crime patterns to identify key causes of violence, and focusing limited enforcement resources on those factors.

Also, the diaspora could help improve the physical environment in high-crime areas by using their resources to repair problem areas (hotspots and corners), make crime attractors less attractive, and redesign the layout of buildings and public spaces to reduce reduce opportunities for crime. . In addition, it can provide community engagement, working with residents and stakeholders to better understand local crime drivers and develop tailored prevention and intervention strategies. This helps build trust and legitimacy between the police and the community. Finally, evidence-based programs (EBP) should be implemented to address risk factors for crime, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of education, and to help provide job training, youth development, and mentorship.

By combining some or all of these strategies and working with law enforcement agencies in collaboration with other public and private organizations, agencies, groups and residents, the diaspora can help measure results through actual reductions in violent crime, assess their effectiveness and demonstrate how to use existing resources to maximize crime prevention and intervention. The diaspora should focus on scientific solutions and interventions that have been proven in police organizations in different jurisdictions and that will make a difference for the people of the country we love so much. They must identify gaps and challenges and apply those resources to the problems.

Bringing cases against corrupt politicians to reduce crime will face significant challenges and waste time, effort and resources that could otherwise be used to provide indigent resources for the benefit of the people of Jamaica. Instead, we can build capacity to help our government, agencies and private citizens make decisions that satisfy them. Help them determine whether they need a mandatory minimum sentence as part of crime control and anti-crime strategies. At the same time, our government must implement better deterrence solutions to reduce crime. Research does not support stricter mandatory minimum sentences.