IN THE midst of a series examining the scourge of serious and violent crime in the Bahamas and how to solve it, Dr Mike Neville, a respected forensic psychiatrist, lost his son, a victim of murder. On February 27, Sean Neville, 31, a father of a six-year-old daughter, was shot dead yards from the family home in New Providence. Dr Neville’s weekly series of articles in The Tribune are designed to inform an evidence-based national debate on how to solve the escalating levels of crime in the country. Here he reflects on Easter, the suffering and the triumph over death, and the hard lessons it offers for the Bahamas if it is to pull out of a tomb of crime.
By Dr Mike Neville
RECENT posts by contributors to A Life of Crime are overwhelmingly asking for something to be done. “Enough talk!” they write.
I did not write over Easter. The feelings created by this religious time had far greater implications for us than ever before. It was a time for reflection and great sadness.
It did occur to me, however, that the series has some parallels. In the gospel of Matthew, Pontius Pilate symbolically washes his hands to show he has no personal responsibility for the events that will follow. How many residents of the Bahamas have also washed their hands about the issues surrounding crime?
“It’s not my problem”, they say.
Take Judas Iscariot, who – according to the gospel of John – betrayed Jesus for “thirty pieces of silver” by “identifying him with a kiss”. How far has the love of money corrupted this small country so it becomes easy to betray one’s friend or lover? Even Peter denied that he knew Jesus: it was most likely human frailty, weakness and fear of his own death that motivated him. All too similar to how Bahamians, especially those witnesses to terrible things, feel today.
The crucifixion with the pain, suffering and eventual death on the cross is central to many churches’ belief in salvation; we are all sinners and only the death and suffering of Christ on the cross has been able to atone for our sins.
This concept seems to spill over into our lives. Somehow our individual and collective wrongdoing is creating a debt that must be repaid by the suffering of society, rendering us powerless to change the status quo. Easter, though, is not just about suffering: it is about the resurrection, the religious triumph over death. It is surely time for the Bahamas to pull itself out of this tomb of crime and suffering, but it will require action, hard work and a belief that these actions will lead to a new beginning.
So I asked myself “what are some of the things being done, or at least what programmes that may impact crime am I aware of?”
According to the Bahamas Family Planning Association website, individuals can get assistance and organisations can request workshops and advice. In view of the ever increasing birth rate perhaps another more aggressive approach may help.
There are “Healthy Choice” educational models in the schools and churches; are they working but not reaching enough youngsters or is there need for improvement? Pace is a multi-agency programme for teenage mothers who are still at school; is research available on the impact of the intervention on future pregnancies and school graduation?
There are comprehensive antenatal clinics and community nursing services but I am not aware of any “at-risk mother registers” nor any visiting nursing services for those at risk. Programmes such as these have been shown to reduce later criminal behaviour.
The same applies to government sponsored pre-school education for at-risk children; they also reduce crime in later life. I am not sure how many places are available but there is a great need for more.
A regular contributor to A Life of Crime on the tribune242.com website suggested that we look at the Boys Clubs of America as a way of helping our young males. This is certainly the sort of programme that research has shown does help the development of young men; we have similar organisations here such as the Boy Scouts, the Girl Guides, the Boys Brigade, police outreach, Junior Achievement, church groups and many more, all of which have contributed greatly over the years.
They seem, however, to have less and less influence in the areas that the interventions are most needed. I am not really sure why.
There can be no doubt that the present situation of thousands of graduating students each year with very limited job opportunities is untenable. There needs to be an active debate as to the role of young people in society, there needs to be active help guiding them towards maturity as they are the future of this ever changing society.
There is a local television show called “Shock Treatment”. I suspect that it is a Bahamian version of “Scared Straight”, the objective of which and other similar programmes was for prisoners to scream at and terrify at-risk youngsters to scare them so much that they would later avoid crime.
The problem is that a meta analysis of such programmes shows that “they actively increased crime rates, leading to higher re-offence rates than control groups that did not receive the intervention”. The lesson is clear: we must look at international research, not emotion.
Youth and Community work is a specialised course, which I do not think is available at the College of the Bahamas. The organisations that help youngsters need trained workers so they can take some of the responsibility in helping children grow during the hours out of school.
I was always drawn to the youth club model that was used in England in the 1970s and 1980s. Clubs were developed around school buildings that were not used in the evenings, they were run by trained youth workers who helped the youngsters choose activities internally and externally with other clubs.
Drugs, alcohol and violence were all completely unacceptable. The youth workers did not see themselves as providers, rather as enablers who helped them distinguish between their wants and needs and learn to develop self determination within the communities’ often limited resources. The youth clubs combine boys and girls: this seems critical in a society where early sexualisation and relationship issues lead to so much violence. These types of initiatives require organisation, training and plenty of hard work – without these, nothing can change.
The criminal justice system is the cornerstone of our hopes to deal with crime, but is it working?
The Police need the help of the community and society desperately needs the help of the police. The force seems to feel that it is performing the job and just last week it was reported that they are making arrests, charging suspects and taking them before the courts. The complaint that the police make is that bail is granted far too easily leaving the criminals free to reoffend.
Certainly we have all read in the newspapers of victims of murder wearing ankle bracelets when they were killed. If this is indeed correct it suggests not just a failure of the bail process but also of the ankle bracelet monitoring system.
I do not understand how bail is granted for extremely serious offences, unless the accused has been in Fox Hill Prison for an unreasonable period of time (meaning at least a few years on a murder charge). The difficulty that I am finding is that there are so many murders and other serious crimes that it seems impossible to keep up with what is happening.
There needs to be a commitment to transparency so it becomes possible to see where the process is stalling so that efforts can be made to resolve the difficulties. It would help enormously if information showing clearly what happens after someone is murdered could be made available.
What is the time interval from a murder to an arrest and just how many of the murders over the past decade have led to an arrest?
What is the time interval from the arrest to the investigation file being sent to the Director of Public Prosecutions?
How long does it take to get through the court system to the Supreme Court?
And crucially, how long does it take for a case to reach conviction or dismissal?
What are the numbers of convictions and dismissals?
This would tell us the time intervals involved in the processing of murder cases. It would show where the delays are taking place, the most likely causes and suggest remedial action.
These time intervals can then be used to demonstrate improvements in the system as they occur and compared with international best practice to see how well the criminal justice system is working.
This would be a cosmic change in the system. At present we are allowing the system to stagnate, we are washing our hands of all responsibility, we are selling our souls for “thirty pieces of silver”, we see nothing and deny knowing who is responsible, we blindly accept that the suffering is inevitable and a deserved punishment.
It is time to start the process which will enable us to begin the journey out of this cataclysmic catacomb of crime.
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• DR Mike Neville is a forensic psychiatrist who has spent 40 years - the majority in the Bahamas - working in the hospitals, courts and prisons at close quarters with offenders. He is bringing his experience and expertise to bear in a series in The Tribune designed to inform an evidence-based national debate on how to solve the rising levels of crime.
Week by week Dr Neville is examining the causes, effects and potential remedies of crime, from the cradle to the grave, looking at the reasons behind the increasing catalogue of murders, shootings, armed robberies and sexual assaults.
And we want you to be involved. Every Tuesday, you can comment on his articles in The Tribune and call in to an hour’s live phone-in on KISS FM96.1 from 3pm on 677-0961. Dr Neville will welcome views - unconventional, challenging and supportive - from everyone. Join the discussions via comments on tribune242.com, email to firstname.lastname@example.org or ring into the radio today from 3pm to 4pm.