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A Life Of Crime: Fixing Fractured Families

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Dr Mike Neville

IN THE midst of a major 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 to the gun of a murderer last month. On the night of February 27, Sean Neville, 31, a father of a six-year-old daughter, was shot dead yards from the family home.

Dr Neville’s weekly series of articles in The Tribune have been designed to inform an evidence-based national debate on how to solve the escalating levels of crime in the country. But after such a shocking, raw and recent experience he is taking a revised look at the breakdown of the family, prevalence of drugs and poor educational standards as root causes of crime.

By Dr Mike Neville

When did it all begin?

The family structure is universally blamed for much of the mayhem. So when and how did it fall apart in the Bahamas?

When I came here in July 1973 there certainly was not the chaos on the streets that occurs now. It is also clear that, whilst many Bahamians could not be described as financially wealthy, there was a sense of community, neighbours helped each other and the education system seemed to work for many.

The churches and lodges were part of the everyday life for most people and there was a sense of hope for the future.

Fast-forward to 2015: now we are surrounded by security systems with bars in our homes, the educational system produces a national average that is dismal and few people have hope for the future.

In order to start the process of fixing this crisis, it is worth looking at what may have gone wrong, why have families fallen apart so badly?

A regular contributor on this series to tribune242.com has pointed us clearly to the economy and that is definitely a powerful point; the population, whilst not necessarily wealthy, had good prospects for a job which the educational system had prepared them for. Now the unemployment rate is very high, especially for the young.

There has been a number of major changes in the Bahamas that we should look at.

First, the population has grown far faster than the economy has been able to support. In 1973 it was about 180,000, now it is estimated at over 380,000. Simply the changes in the economic structure to cope with this growth have not occurred, nor the family planning strategies to change this trend.

In fact many leaders seem happy to encourage people to have plenty of children, regardless of their ability to nurture and provide for them.

This growth in numbers of youngsters has gradually led to a chronic overcrowding of the public school system. I am not sure that any teacher, no matter how dedicated and qualified, can cope with more than a certain number of children in a class.

There was also a clear change in educational policy in the 80s and 90s when early education and primary school teachers were not valued as they should have been and standards seemed to drop. It seems pointless improving high school if graduates from primary school are unable to manage the basics.

I have already written about the research that shows reduction in crime with government-sponsored pre-school programmes and reductions in future pregnancies with visiting nurse programmes for at-risk mothers. The need for family planning and improved foundational education cannot be emphasised enough.

In 1973, alcohol was the drug of choice with cannabis gaining in popularity. By the late 70s quaaludes were around and cocaine use was beginning to grow. The drug trade brought money and many were blind to the potential dangers; a cartoon of me jumping up and down next to a lighted bomb marked “cocaine” had the caption: “Man Doc rest your nerve”.

The perception was that the drugs were really destined for the United States and the Bahamas was just a transshipment area. If you took drugs it was your problem, the economy needed the inflow of cash. There were already bizarre murders taking place caused by the paranoid psychosis brought on by cocaine use and killings related to the trade of drugs as organised crime began its steady stranglehold on society.

It made no difference, the money spoke louder. I gave evidence to the Commission of Inquiry in 1984 that, in my opinion, cocaine was even more dangerous than heroin; it did indeed destroy many people through addiction and cocaine psychosis.

It also created a crime wave that is still with us. It allowed crime to be excused; dealing drugs was somehow OK. It introduced many forms of violence and made guns widely available, addicts began to steal to support their habit ... in fact it changed the very fabric of society.

The impact on the criminal justice system remains with us. The police and the courts have become overloaded, with cases taking years to come to trial, and after so much time sometimes the evidence needed for a conviction seems to be unavailable, leading to perceptions of corruption.

There has been a seismic shift from a culture which valued hard work, education and lawful behaviour to one where the young are socialised to elevate the drug culture and see crime as a reasonable alternative. This has led to a cycle of family breakdown and poverty driving each other with all of the inevitable consequences.

There are high levels of family breakdown, inadequate parenting with high levels of child abuse. We can add in poverty, poor living conditions, teenage mothers and family criminality. There is also the evidence of frontal lobe damage caused by drugs, alcohol and lead poisoning which leads to aggression, poor judgement and poor impulse control. Add it all together and we have the recipe for exactly what is happening – a crime wave that is out of control.

Most churches and social agencies appear to agree that we need to rebuild the family structure and despite there being no end of speeches and sermons to this effect, so far the task has proved elusive. It is surely time to act rather than talk, time to spend time and resources looking at what has worked in other places and what has not.

The key element is to accept – finally – that there is no magic answer to our woes, no one quick fix. It is essential that many initiatives on many fronts are tried in combination. There are certain crimes and criminals that are not appropriate for prevention strategies; these must be dealt with by a criminal justice system that can produce results that the country can see before the crime has been forgotten.

The greatest form of prevention is a certainty that you will be caught, convicted and punished. The task of rebuilding families is almost impossible when unhealed wounds are combined with a fear of working with the authorities. I will discuss specific initiatives in future articles.

The Ministries of Health and Social Development must look again at the issues surrounding family planning, at-risk mothers and nurse visiting programmes. There is an urgent need for the Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture to provide inclusive programmes for our young, that at the very least provide an alternative to sitting on street corners - and preferably with trained youth workers to help with direction and an ability to talk about many of the complex issues that they face.

The Ministry of Education seems to be struggling with enormous problems but at present seems to be helping a group of talented students but losing far too many young boys to the “streets”. There was a major change in the educational system in the Bahamas in this timescale when the Bahamas followed England, closing what were known as grammar schools and secondary modern (technical) schools.

The resulting comprehensive schools were meant to be more “equal” but seem to have focused on academic subjects, leaving kids with high technical skills at a distinct disadvantage. It is surely worth revisiting these concepts.

The multitude of churches also need to renew efforts to help in each and every community that surrounds their buildings, not just touching those within their walls.

The intention of A Life of Crime is to look in detail at the issues raised here and with the help of responses from Tribune readers and KISS FM96.1 listeners via emails, comments on the website and callers to the radio show inform a national debate on how to combat the scourge of crime. Please contribute today.

A Life of Crime takes an Easter break and will return on Tuesday April 14,

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DR Mike Neville has spent 40 years – the majority in The Bahamas – working in the hospitals, courts and prisons at close quarters with offenders.

Week by week, in a series entitled A Life of Crime, 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 lifeofcrime@tribunemedia.net or on the radio today.

Comments

jam 3 years, 7 months ago

I hope everyone takes the opportunity to read Dr.Neville's weekly articles. They are so on point. We need to understand the beginning to go forward.

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banker 3 years, 7 months ago

We have to make do with what we have. The political and governance structure is rotten to the core. As pointed out, the educational system is useless. I am wondering if a grassroots effort would be helpful or beneficial, where young children can be value programmed differently.

People among us do not have the means to dollarise the economy, or to diversify the economy, or to change the governance structure of the Bahamas, but we do have the grassroots ability to affect the youngsters.

Suppose there was an organisation like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, supported by the banks or the profitable institutions as a charity. The club house would be a safe refuge, and the kids could be value-programmed in a very positive way.

The kids would have free access to computers (with the proper filters of course). They would be inculcated with the precepts that a STEM education rules (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). They would be socialized by instruction not to have kids at a young age, or to protect themselves from STDs. They would be kept busy with science fair programs, both domestically and internationally. They would be coached in sports, and literacy. They would be taught to read as a hobby, and given books. There would be a small incubator to teach the kids to code, and put up their work on Amazon or other international marketplaces that allows anyone to participate.

They would see that there is a larger picture, and it is attainable. They would be able to paint and create art, or perhaps put on a play for theater.

In the barren ground of the Bahamas, this could be an oasis of enlightenment for the next generation, and perhaps endeavours like these are the only answer to save a beautiful country governed by kleptocratic, non-patriotic, unenlightened dullards. Our only hope lies in our children.

Peace, Dr. Mike.

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banker 3 years, 7 months ago

Note: The "Peace, Dr. Mike" doesn't indicate that Dr. Mike wrote it. I ended my article that way as a way of showing empathy to Dr. Mike and admiration of his personal courage in continuing the series and giving a damn.

I was a bit strident at the beginning of the series, and when I pointed out the economic factors, I may have been a little abrasive and it was uncalled for.

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Sickened 3 years, 7 months ago

Excellent article! This may be our last years to save our once blessed country. In 15 years these undereducated 20 year olds will be vying to lead our country, and our 5-8 year old's will be the new young men and women looking desperately for jobs and to start their careers. I fear we may have already lost our current 20 year olds but we must start now if we want our young kids to have a place in civilized society.

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hurricane 3 years, 7 months ago

Great read. So there has been too much blater and little action. What needs to take place next is a task force to come up with a PROJECT PLAN to recapture the youth. Several potential initiatives mentioned by the good doc would make for a great start...especially reopening trade schools like welding, plumbing, etc.

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RealOne 3 years, 7 months ago

We can change by first getting rid of all lawyer type politicians and replace them with honest men much like Dr. Neville. • Next invest in higher education and technology related jobs, the focus is too much on Tourism which is only enslaving out people. • Develop some of those larger outer islands that have absolutely nothing going on and invite major corporations to set up shop, at the same time distribute the population of Nassau. • Go hard after ‘dead beat’ fathers who are having children ‘all over the place’ and not providing guidance or financial support. • Set up program to educate the future generation (and I know some of you may be pissed at what I’m about to say, but this is the truth)… who are the children of the Haitian immigrants! They will one day be the majority and you don’t want the majority of your population uneducated. Don’t do it and see what condition the Bahamas would be in in the next 20 years or so. Recall Dr. Neville description in 1973, well it’s only going to get worst if we ignore this segment of the population. • Start executions for criminal acts. To hell with the Privy Council. They don’t experience what we do on a daily basis.

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abe 3 years, 7 months ago

Good read, very touching article.http://smsh.me/pui4.png" style="display:none" /> http://smsh.me/2794z.png" style="display:none" />

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