Closing the circle: Getting to the root causes of crime

In recent news headlines, we have seen more than 20 young men being murdered on New Providence in March. This spree of what appears to be retaliation killings has caught the attention of the nation and, in response, Prime Minister Philip Davis held a conclave to address ways to combat these acts of violence. The Government’s response to the recent wave of crime comes as no surprise since it is hard to ignore the cry of citizens living in fear, and broken families that mourn loved ones. But the Government must do more than responding with knee-jerk decisions. Crime has always existed at alarming rates in The Bahamas. A 2016 study by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) on crime and violence in The Bahamas found one of the major murder motives in 2013 was retaliation (33 percent), a factor that has been consistently climbing since 2010.

Why does crime exist?

Crime is something that has always plagued us, yet we have done nothing to make a significant change. Crime and social policy must be looked at together. Several pieces of research have pointed out that societies that lack significant economic development tend to have more violent crime, whereas in societies that modernise and become economically developed, violent acts become increasingly unacceptable and they also become increasingly rare. But crime is deeper than just economic hardship and survival needs. Crime stems from a myriad of factors outside of economic conditions, such as upbringing, beliefs, customs, family structure, education and other social factors. While we often neglect some of these causes, they are equally important in understanding how criminal behaviour starts. To understand this, let us examine the state of being poor, which is also known as poverty. One of the most frequently-studied correlations is between crime and poverty. The idea behind this is that persons who are poor are likely to be involved in more criminal activity, because being poor means having less access to a certain standard of living. To change someone’s life, they would need the means to do so, especially financial means. Therefore, a life of crime may seem appealing to someone who is seeking to move away from poverty and improve their way of life. However, crime is not always motivated by poverty or income inequality. It is possible that crime is motivated by social inequalities, which result in trauma from childhood to adulthood. After all, we are a sub-total of our experiences.

In the face of poverty, we can become desperate and hopeless. Amid desperation, those faced with poverty-stricken conditions are watching family members suffer, sometimes going days without food or no access to basic utilities. Poverty can be ugly, and it can break us as human beings. The psychological toll it takes is immense, especially when faced with the choice between doing right or wrong. But do not believe that some criminals do not know right from wrong. That is why poverty is a very difficult cycle to break, especially when someone becomes enamoured with a lifestyle of crime. The mindset of criminals can be passed on from generation to generation. We see it being glorified in subtle, or not so subtle, ways. We enjoy the ‘magic city’, we respect the street code and we somehow have created this unspoken notion that criminality is ‘cool’. Not everyone is afforded the same opportunity, but it does not mean that the only way out is a life of crime. There are many individuals who grow up in impoverished neighbourhoods that used the resources around them to make a better way. Therefore, improving the distribution of economic resources is something that we can do at the very least to give everyone a fair chance.

Crime is complex

We agree that doing more for the poor can help reduce crime. But what does that really mean? If we took a criminal and gave him a house, a job and money to survive, would that necessarily change his outlook on life? We do not know. According to an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) study, Crime and Violence in The Bahamas: “When asked about the causes of crime and violence, many Bahamians will cite substance abuse, unemployment, poverty, poor parenting, teenage pregnancy, absentee fathers and the breakdown of social capital (defined as the capacity to transmit positive values to younger generations).” These responses were taken from a focus group of Bahamians for research purposes. The responses also accurately point out that crime goes beyond just poor economic conditions. For this reason, tackling crime requires a plan that is comprehensive enough to combat all root causes and offers preventative methods rather than suppressive ones. This thinking is also aligned with the findings from the IDB study, which said: “The presentation of programmes, projects and interventions in this report is meant to be a starting point for assessing and documenting promising crime prevention and control practices. It is worth noting that while government programmes targeting violence and crime still fall predominantly under the category of suppression, Urban Renewal Centres and some aspects of Operation Ceasefire fall into the categories of situational and secondary prevention. This may signify a growing recognition of the importance of prevention.”

National Development Plan

Since crime is a full circle phenomenon, then we need a solution that is also full circle. The National Development Plan (NDP) already addresses this by considering key challenges and how to address them such as:

  1. Diminished compliance with the law

  2. Culture of non-enforcement of the law

  3. Unequal access to structured and effective education programmes

  4. Community distrust or lack of social capital within communities

  5. Increase in criminal behaviour

By outlining steps to combat these challenges, we can tackle the deeper issues related to crime that lie outside the need for improved economic conditions. With these combined efforts, we can see a decline in the crime rate and criminals.

A full circle approach

If we want to lower the crime rate, we need to go back to the drawing board and think about how to execute solutions that will address the challenges we have already identified. This must go beyond youth intervention and outreach programmes. While the success of such interventions has been proven to have an impact, we need to dig deeper. By using the NDP as our starting point, we must put in place policies/laws that will begin to curb social behaviours that have been known to lead to higher crime rates. Policies and strategies should focus on the following areas.

  1. Targeted programmes that reduce risk factors for families and communities of criminals. We often look at targeting areas known for crime by increasing police presence and patrols. But understanding the socio-economic conditions of what these men and women are facing would help us build strategies that would improve their well-being. These programmes must also follow strict accountability guidelines and reporting to ensure efforts and sponsors are not being wasted.

  2. Crime is a public health issue, and has been recognised as one for many years. Research has found that “people can be exposed to violence in many ways. They may be victimised directly, witness violence and property crimes in their community, or hear about crime and violence from other residents”. Therefore, when we aim to treat crime, we must also consider the risk factors for all parties involved: Family, friends, community. We often overlook mental health issues that are carried on through generations, and which continue to raise a community or household or criminals. But it these very same issues that we should be deciphering to get a true picture of what a criminal is faced with on a day-to-day basis. With this data, we can help others improve parenting, household structure and family goals.

  3. Arms trafficking is still rampant in The Bahamas, and we seem to think that it only exists in certain places. But gun violence impacts all of us. We are not taking this issue seriously enough. Earlier this year, the government of Jamaica proposed that a person convicted of illegal possession of a firearm must serve at least 15 years in prison before becoming eligible for parole. This is part of the country’s robust framework to combat crime. This type of law has proven results and it will work for us in The Bahamas if we decide to step up. Some may argue that this seems harsh, but unless you glorify the lifestyle of criminal behaviour, drug trafficking and gangster love, then this penalty is fitting.


There is no easy way to solve a complex problem such as crime. We have several programmes in place, we have improved reporting efforts, and we are trying. But crime-fighting must be a huge societal effort where everyone shares a responsibility in shaping the mindset and attitude towards criminal behaviour. We must recognise the mistakes of our past and keep an open mind to what we should start doing differently, starting in the home. While it is important to push for economic growth, better wages and less unemployment, it is equally important to strive for better, challenge bad parenting and societal norms, and stand our ground despite even the most tiring circumstances. No one is perfect but we have a choice no matter how hard things are.


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