INSIGHT: The solutions to our crime issues begin with our children

By Timothy Roberts

Tribune Night editor

“A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world. He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognise the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death, how to know what love requires, and where to find steel in the heart when life makes demands on us that are greater than we think we can endure.”

― Ian Morgan

A nurturing mom goes beyond being the “maintenance person” in a child’s life. She doesn’t just keep a child clean, fed, warm, and dry. She also helps enable her children to develop fully by pouring life into them. She models joy and passion. Nurturing is filling your child up with aliveness.

― Timothy L Sanford

THE home life of men in prison is dominated by numerous "stressors". In some places statistics show that as many as eight of ten men in prisons came from abusive or broken homes.

The statistics are not that different here, in The Bahamas, as Marlon Johnson highlighted in his Citizen Safety Diagnostic Report which he completed in 2004. In a recent conversation he says that the predictors of crime have not changed, except that there is more of the same.

“Children from unwanted pregnancies, again, no surprise: yeah, most at risk,” he said. “Because of course, their parents either didn't want them or were unable to financially or emotionally support them.”

Johnson said that a part of our long-term strategies in reducing crime and violence is to reduce the number of broken homes and interventions need to begin at the pre-school level.

He said between the ages of two and five are the most formative years of a child’s life, when they are learning intellectually and emotionally, and the best time to intervene in a positive way.

He said many at-risk children’s home situation is usually a single mom, unemployed or employed with multiple jobs. In troubled areas a social worker should come for frequent visits to check on the welfare of the child, which which in turn would reduce the chance a woman would neglect or abandon her child knowing that a social worker could pop up at any time.

The social worker would go inside and see that the conditions [in the home] so a timely intervention could mitigate a bad situation, or in the worst case a social worker may take the children away from the troublesome environment.

Johnson notes in dealing with broken homes, issues like sex education and how children are punished by parents (spanking) are important areas to address.

"We need some coordination of activities in order to make it happen and get it done and over the longer term, it's really about how we re-engineer our neighborhood and community spaces; how we address the issues around honest discussions around sex, sexuality, family planning, avoiding unwanted pregnancies, because, again, the studies are clear, children from unwanted pregnancies are most at risk,” he said.

"We have to be honest that young people are going to have sex. It is an exercise in futility to tell them not to do it,” Johnson said.

“In Christian, Muslim, atheists, and in any society, the vast majority of young people are not going to wait until they are married before they have sex. That is not going to happen. Some will, but most won't. So, we can't craft issues for some, we have to craft policies that work for all,” he said.

He suggests instead of just preaching abstinence, we must promote safe sex education if we want to succeed. “I've got to be realistic. If my goal is to not create a whole lot of unwanted children, I can't discount the notion that people have to be sexually responsible. So, I tell my kids, not rush to have sex, but if you do it, this is what you must be mindful of.”

“This is what you have to understand. Because I'd much rather tell her that than be the parent who says, don't have sex, don't have sex, and all of a sudden end up at a pregnancy.”

He said if we hope to end as other stable and secure societies, “they're not preaching abstinence, but are preaching good sensible sex practices. My problem is we tend to colour these discussions with our religious and cultural convictions, but if our goal is a great, peaceful, tranquil society, then [we’ve] got to realize that some of the things [we] really firmly held on to aren't necessarily consistent with what actually works.”

The other issue, which Johnson calls a "controversial drug" is corporal punishment.

"The truth is this, and I've studied this extensively, they have not only done studies, they've done meta-analysis over 50-year periods; children who get hit are more likely to be dysfunctional than those who do not. The evidence is overwhelming.”

He said, “it don't mean that hitting a child is going to cause some dysfunction, it just means that if you want to minimize a child's incidence of dysfunction, you can discipline children without it.

“And, even for those parents who hit responsibly, meaning that they don't necessarily, you know, virtually abuse children, as long as you allow it, a lot of these parents come from very stressful environments, and are too stressed out and whatnot.”

Johnson says not every parent is responsible enough to use corporal punishment, and the abuse of it can have devastating effects on children. “So, I think we do need to have a national discussion, but you've got to start from the vantage point of saying, listen, even if most of you can hit responsibly, you can raise well-meaning, well-adjusted children without having to do so.”

In those men who ended up committing crimes and particularly violent crimes, he said we see that as children they were hit quite a bit in the home.

"The message you send the child is, if somebody offends me, a lot of times, I got hit, wasn't because I was necessarily doing something bad, but my mother was doing it because she was vexed. That ain't a correction, that's you child upsetting you and you retaliating. And that's the messages that these most kids get,” he said.

He added that if it is an offensive thing for an adult to hit another adult, why then is it okay to hit a child? “We gotta ask ourselves if we have such punitive laws around hitting adults why do we hit the people who are much more vulnerable than that? That's the fundamental question - if you can correct a child without hitting them then why hit them? If we really want to rid ourselves of violence - as violence should only be deployed when there is no other recourse - we have to let go of some of our sacred cows, and fundamentally rethink and focus on what works, as opposed to what our sentiment tells us works.”

Johson said that our solutions to our social ills must be consistent with what is going to optimise the outcomes. “Ultimately, we have to let the empiricism drive our decisions, number one, and we really have to focus in on the day-to-day management of the interventions discreetly, and from a macro standpoint, to make sure that they're integrated, and that it bears fruit.”

He said as we seek to reduce crime that it comes down to being able to get the right group of ideas together, working together with evidence-based solutions.

"The final thing I think, when we now articulate this plan, and the Prime Minister is talking about planning and strategy, there needs to be targeted KPIs (key performance indicators) and milestones. The reason for that is if we understand what the goal is that helps us make mid-term re-evaluations to see if it worked or if it is not working. If you're not measuring against something, then how do you measure success?”

If you want to see decline in 20 percent of murders, or 30 percent of rapes and you seek to involve a certain number of young men, and young women in the programme we can now measure those targets and evaluate the results; whether targets are made and why or why not, and then how do we adjust and improve?

Johnson said, "I want us to move on from this being a political football, because truthfully, governments only realise this when they get into government that it isn't political. We as a civil society must encourage governments to set milestones that we will be prepared as a civil society to have honest engagement in and be prepared to adjust our strategies and our tactics when certain things are not working.”

He adds that, “if you do not have people, especially at the end of that line, who are interacting with especially at-risk youth that actually care about them, It's not going to work. Which is why you need civil society partners who are genuinely interested.”

“It can't be a bureaucrat doing it because a bureaucrat is there for the measure of success. It isn't their passion or their job. You want people who are doing it because they are motivated to do it as opposed to doing it for a paycheck. And the good news for us is that we have more than enough people who want to assist.”

We all have a role to play in the betterment of the society we live in. The government has the authority to do their part with laws and enforcement and aid programmes, but the real impact of change – real long-term tangible change – will only come from us as we live and interact with the very community and country we live in.

Volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.

— Unknown


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