By TRUTH AND LOGIC
CRIME in The Bahamas is at unacceptable levels. But what do we mean by “crime”?
I would think that most Bahamians would say violent crime, but why should we give a pass to non-violent crime? Crime is crime: either we address it or we do not. After all, the only difference between the criminal who shoplifts and the one who holds a gun to your face demanding your jewellery is that the criminal holding the gun is being forthright. Yes, violent crime is worse, but that is no excuse for tolerating non-violent crime. If we are to eliminate or significantly reduce our levels of crime, all crime must be addressed. Otherwise we are being hypocritical, and that is part of the reason why crime flourishes.
So, where do we begin? To devise policies that address the criminal is to treat the symptom, not the cause. We did not get into this situation overnight, nor will we get out of it overnight. There is no magic bullet: we must put in place a long-term approach to crime, because it is ultimately a social problem. The strategy has to span political administrations, and politicians must stop politicising crime. You need only look back at the last political campaign, during which crime was made a major issue, and fast-forward to today, when the government’s campaign rhetoric is being thrown back in their embarrassed faces.
If we begin with violent crime, there would be no dispute that most of our violent criminals are angry and unsocialised young men who are the product of broken homes and/or single mothers living in poverty. It is very easy for gangs to recruit these young men who have no prospective career options, incorporate them into a group to replace their family, and teach them to pursue the only career available, which is crime. These young men go on to impregnate girls and women who themselves are trying to breed their way out of poverty, and so the vicious cycle continues.
So where do violent criminals come from? I suggest that they are the result of rampant promiscuity and paedophilia within our society, along with a healthy dose of hypocritical First Testament Christianity. I blame both the men and women: the men because they are using their sexual conquests as a measure of their masculinity, and the women who are hoping the father of the next child will be the one who will look after them all. Where there is no parental love and ongoing relationship, the offspring of these trysts develop into angry young men and women with little or no socialisation, and the vicious cycle continues.
So the first step is to break the reproduction cycle. You cannot ban sexual relationships, but you can put in place policies to ameliorate their results. Now that we have a cash transfer system to assist the poor, we taxpayers should demand that any female on the programme aged between 12 and 40 should be required to have a Birth Control Implant (BCI) – a matchstick-sized implant placed into the arm of a female, which is generally effective for three years – which will remain in place as long as she is under the programme. Why should we taxpayers foot the bill for the conception of additional children by women who are, by definition, unable to afford them?
As a secondary adjunct to this initiative, put in place the provision of free birth control for any female and, if necessary, pay her to use it. Yes, that is correct: pay each and every young lady who is prepared to volunteer on her own cognisance, or through her parents’ or guardians’ consent in the case of minors, to receive monthly payments for not getting pregnant. It would require registration, a BCI and a monthly visit to a clinic, where a negative pregnancy test result would conclude with a cheque in hand. This can be implemented by the Department of Social Services as part of their transfer scheme in co-operation with the Public Health Authority.
Offering free birth control does work. It was pioneered in Colorado, and has resulted in a reduction of teen pregnancies by 40 per cent and of abortions by 42 per cent according to an article in The New York Times on July 6, 2015.
Too expensive, you say? What would be the cost to society of the alternative? The ever-expanding cost of police enforcement and the criminal judiciary system, along with the expense of housing these criminals in gaol for years? A stitch in time saves nine; so let’s start making those stitches.
With policies in place to limit the reproduction cycle, what initiatives can be implemented to address the next generation?
Now we are talking primarily about young men (but also young women) whom we have to rescue before they are seduced by the gangs or otherwise harmed by their negative living circumstances: the children of these very same cash transfer recipients. As part of the process, put in place a policy that will offer parents or guardians the opportunity to relocate disadvantaged children to boarding schools outside of New Providence, away from the ghetto environment and gangs. A place where they may not only obtain a high school education, but also learn a trade, if that is their wont. This will allow the teachers and administrators of the boarding schools the opportunity to socialise the youngsters properly, as that is clearly not happening at home.
So, now we address the current generation, the young and not-so-young individuals who are rampant criminals in our society. At this point, policies have to both address the existing criminal element, and also present our graduating students with a viable alternative to joining it. Let’s address prevention first, and that comes in the form of a voluntary national service. This is not to say a militarised service, although that can certainly be an option. It can also come in the form of encouraging young men and women to help build our country. While under national service, they can earn a stipend, and at the end of their two or three years of service, be granted an acre of Crown Land of their own to develop. This will give them ownership of their country, and an asset that can be collateralised to obtain financing to move onto bigger and better things. This is what is called an opportunity, which none of them even dare to dream of at present.
Now let us address the sorry situation we currently find ourselves in. As stated earlier, there is no magic bullet; it is irrelevant how many prayer meetings, marches and talk radio opinions are put forth, because the criminals are not listening. Re-introducing hanging is not going to make a bit of difference; if these people were afraid of the noose, they would not be indulging in behaviour that is far more likely to end their lives prematurely. The approach simply has to be twofold: take them off the streets, and turn the prison into an institution of reform.
Taking them off the streets requires the co-operation of the police, judiciary and the government. The RBPF will tell you that most violent crimes are conducted by a relatively small number of individuals. The problem is not the catching; it is the letting go after catching. The main reason for release is simply our inadequate judicial resources, which result first in delay of trial, then bail being granted due to a remand period past what is reasonable. The first thing to address is the expansion of the judicial system, in order to accommodate the real volume of cases, and an amendment of the laws to eliminate the excessively liberal provision of bail to those accused of committing heinous crimes.
Now that we have more criminals off the streets, what do we do with them in gaol, and how can we reform them? Have prison actually create industries and put the convicts to work; pay one third of earnings as compensation to victims, one third to prison to pay for keep, and the final third to be accumulated by the inmates to provide them with working capital upon release. There are any number of potential services - telemarketing, call centres, car services, restaurants, laundry facilities; the list is as long as your imagination - and many of these endeavours are already being carried out at the prison for the prisoners themselves, by definition. Involve convicts at all levels, including planning, management, accounting and delivery. Use this programme as an incentive for improved prisoner behaviour, and allow conjugal visits. Release prisoners with working experience and sufficient capital (earned by themselves) to re-enter society as productive members.
There will be those hard cases that cannot and will not wish to pursue the options presented. They should be isolated in comparatively unpleasant circumstances in a separate facility, say a new prison on one of the Family Islands built by the members of our proposed national service and partially staffed by same?
And, finally, in conjunction with all of this, the following policies must be put in place:
Follow the examples of other countries and take every step required to stamp out corruption. Create an anti-corruption unit staffed by foreigners (sorry to say I do not believe we are up to the task; too many family relationships interfere). Eliminate corruption and a great deal of resultant criminality goes with it. You want to be the Singapore of the Caribbean? Corruption has to go.
There must be zero tolerance across the board: everything from traffic violations to thievery has to become unacceptable, as these activities underpin lawlessness.
It is impossible to effectively legislate morality; rather, it is the job of the Church to encourage morality. Separate crime from vice; regulate and tax instead. We have already done so with gambling, so let’s decriminalise drugs (all of them, not just marijuana) and legalise prostitution. Let us stop being naive and hypocritical about it.
There has to be a programme of public education. Go to work on the national psyche. Life is a journey, not a destination. Our lives are not dictated by our “things”, but by who we are. We as a society used to be much happier when we had less, and did not know it.
So there you have it, Bahamas. Are you up to the challenge?
• The author’s name has been withheld by request.