FOR the past six month Dr Mike Neville, a renowned and experienced forensic psychiatrist, has been examining the root causes of serious crime, a current scourge on society in the Bahamas.
He set out to inform an evidence-based national debate on how to solve the rising levels of serious crime here and invited the public to contribute.
During the series, his son became one of the 80 murder victims in the country so far this year. These are his conclusions.
By DR MIKE NEVILLE
THE Life of Crime series has traced issues that impact on our crime rate from the cradle to the grave; now we have reached the “burial” of the series and it is time for a few reflections.
I thought it would be a simple enough journey. After all, I have worked in prisons, mental hospitals and the criminal justice system for all of my working life.
Then, seven weeks into the series, our son Sean was murdered; theory becomes reality and our lives were changed forever. We came face-to-face with that segment of society which is content to blame the victim – “it can’t be me” – rather than deal with the reality that it can be anyone of us in this out-of-control crime situation in The Bahamas.
I had hoped to create a multi-platform discussion on crime, the causes and solutions. This hope only flickered along with some response to The Tribune’s web page, a few callers to the live KissFM radio show and even fewer emails. A regular website contributor, “banker”, reminded me it was the economy and, of course, he is correct; the latest figures from the Inter-American Development Bank show unemployment at 30.08 per cent in the 15 to 24 age group.
It is likely it is worse but the fact that close to one third of the youth of The Bahamas have no work spells a national catastrophe with more crime in the future. This horrendous rate of crime may easily drive the cruise ships to other ports – like almost crime-free Havana, Cuba – to avoid the dangers here. This would cause The Bahamas to collapse into anarchy: in simple terms, unless the economy improves, advice is not likely to work.
Inaccuracies in my Biblical knowledge were pointed out and I was taken to task for not being scientific enough in topics like Paedophilia; all true but I was searching for a discussion. All of us have limited knowledge in some areas, but we still must tackle crime with a societal consensus. I did not wish to be another pontificating professor!
The answers, though, lie in the series where the repetitive theme is that things must happen at each stage of our development; there must be multiple interventions at different phases across all our age groups – but they all need to begin now.
The economy can be helped by one of the early crime fighting tools, family planning. This must be taken seriously: the country does not have nearly enough jobs for any stability and, as each year passes and more children leave school, the unemployment figures continue to rise creating the atmosphere for crime.
Ante-natal care is already provided for in the public sector, but is in need of aggressive new programmes as the present birth rate in The Bahamas is not economically sustainable. It is during pregnancy and the early part of life that good care helps prevent damage to the frontal lobe which is associated with aggression, judgment and - later - criminality. The nurse programmes which help at-risk mothers have shown remarkable results and are well worth the investment.
As the Ministries of Health and Social Services lead the first wave of prevention, the Ministry of Education must provide early learning centres for all at-risk children. These programmes have shown conclusively how these educational efforts have reduced crime years later.
As our children enter primary school, all efforts should be in full swing; the correlations between physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and the neglect of children are clear and accepted internationally. We know child abuse is wrong and yet it is on the increase: all evidence-based efforts to lessen child abuse must be encouraged and supported.
Teacher-student ratios remain high and there are still limited opportunities for special educational assistance. We need organised youth activities to help these young boys and girls; we need a countrywide youth club organisation run by “qualified staff”. There is a desperate need for new life in the Boy Scouts, Girl Guides and Boys Brigade. The departments of Educational Psychology and the Child and Adolescent mental health teams must be strengthened to help teachers cope with at-risk children so they can welcome children as challenges, not as problems.
These efforts must seamlessly run throughout the school system, with health, social services and the churches interacting with our educators at every stage. Numerous interventions locally and internationally have been shown to work; the research is easily accessed so why is the “Shock Tactics” programme displayed as the Bahamas’ centrepiece in crime prevention when, in 2011, two Justice Department officials wrote in the Baltimore Sun that not only are these “Scared Straight” programmes ineffective but also potentially harmful. There has also been a meta analysis in 2002 that found that these programmes actively increased crime rates. It is essential that The Bahamas follows evidence-based information, not emotion.
Violence begets violence and yet the evidence is ignored with corporal punishment still the favoured method of correction. This has been linked to later domestic violence in many studies. The efforts to convince society as a whole that physical and sexual violence against your spouse – or, in fact, against anybody – remains a serious problem that must be overcome.
The whole criminal justice system is failing society. The police, the courts and the prison have lost the trust of many, especially the economically deprived. A total examination of the problems is required with major changes where necessary. A good start would be a website where serious crime could be tracked.
What are the real figures?
How many offenders have been arrested and charged?
How long does it take for the case to be finished in court and what is the conviction rate?
This will require outside help – investigators, prosecutors, planners ... in fact, help at whatever stage it is needed. This problem is too serious to ignore.
The removal of juries should be discussed. The system may be better served by using the South African system of judges with no jury. The greater acceptance of plea bargains will lessen time in court and by removing the death penalty from the penal code the whole Supreme Court system can be streamlined. Revenge sounds fine but in our present system convictions are so low most victims would at least get some peace of mind to know that the perpetrators have been convicted and will be off the streets for a considerable period of time.
It would be remiss of me not to thank all who helped during this 24-part, weekly series. The Tribune Media Group for this opportunity to talk about crime; my sponsors, SuperValue, Lowes Wholesale and Dairy Queen, for taking a risk on this concept and all of their support. Jamaal Rolle, who caught glimpses of my mind and produced enlightened illustrations. On the radio, I enjoyed working with “Big Guy”: he enriched the show and I suspect he took a risk on the concept as well.
And, of course, my family. We have been struggling down this painful pathway and they have all been extremely encouraging, reading, listening and giving ideas. Finally, our departed son, Sean, who never missed the series while he was alive. We miss his humorous input.
May he rest in peace.
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