By PACO NUNEZ
Tribune News Editor
THE current level of deadly violence means the Bahamas almost qualifies as an armed conflict zone, a new report reveals.
Measured per 100,000 inhabitants, the murder rate over the last several years was about three times the level constituting an epidemic, roughly equivalent to a conflict zone, and continues to be one of the highest in the region.
The statistics, included in the Inter-American Development Bank country strategy for the Bahamas, also reveal that in 2010, this country had the highest prisoner to population ratio in the region and one of the highest in the world – with nearly 70 per cent of prisoners still awaiting trial.
Between 2005 and 2011, the report noted, crime against persons and property rose 49 per cent.
“These elevated levels are raising concern at the local and international levels, and have a direct influence on human welfare in the short run, and longer run affects on social cohesion and economic growth – particularly with respect to tourism,” the report said.
In 2010, the Bahamas recorded 28 murders per 100,000 inhabitants. The report noted that according to the World Health Organisation, anything above 10/100,000 constitutes an epidemic, while rates above 30/100,000 are classed as an armed conflict.
That year, there were 94 murders. The rate has exceeded 100 every year since, with 111 so far in 2013.
The report noted that there has been a steady increase in the rate of violent crime since 2005, with a brief abatement in 2009 and 2010, but then record levels in 2011.
The IDB said the factors contributing to the rate of violent crime in the Bahamas include: the country’s location along the drug transit route between South American and the United States; a relatively small criminal justice system “often overwhelmed in terms of police, courts and prisons” and unable to prosecute cases within a reasonable time; and an inability to understand and tackle citizen security issues, including the growing prevalence of young offenders.
It noted that according to the World Bank Enterprise Surveys, Bahamian businesses are “significantly constrained” by crime, with 19.5 per cent of those surveyed identifying crime, theft and disorder as major constraints to doing business in the country.
The report noted the government’s efforts to reverse the crime trend, including Urban Renewal and the Swift Justice Initiative.
But it said that notwithstanding these efforts, “there is still an urgent need for a crosscutting, inter-sectoral crime and violence strategy emphasising prevention and combining the strengthening of key sector institutions and targeting different risk factors affecting the community life in a co-ordinated way, using evidence-based interventions.”
As part of its strategy for the development of the Bahamas, the IDB suggested that it provide funding for the creation of such a strategy.
It said specific actions could include:
• Attention to at-risk youth through mentoring, social and vocational skills training, anger management, and remedial education;
• Training in community organising;
• Prevention of child maltreatment through the improvement of parenting skills;
• Prevention of violence in schools by involving neighbouring community agencies, civil society groups, community leaders, parents, as well as government agencies;
• The creation of crime-free “safe zones” in communities.