Tougher Penalties For Crimes; Is This An Effective Solution In TCI?

In a world filled with fear and trepidation, the “get tough on crime” rhetoric will resonate with many and may seem like the only way out.

With all due respect, history itself might beg to differ. Too often, the public at large falls for these catchy phrases.

Although it has good intentions and makes great sound bites, in some cases, it boils down to having a bark without a bite; while in other cases, it could negatively impact the sector of society we are actually trying to help. What’s at play here, is the divide and conquer approach.

What this article is intended to do, is to stimulate a much needed conversation about the role of our criminal justice system in creating public policies that are both efficient and effective; policies that not only have short term gains, but long term positive impact on an every changing society.

Case in point: Recently, legislation was passed in the Turks and Caicos Islands that mandate a seven year prison sentence for persons found to be in the possession of an illegal firearm. Based on recent crime statistics, one can come to their own conclusion of its effectiveness so far.

Age group is a good predictor of crime, and the results of the recent crime statistics which shows over 50% of the victims being young adults, makes it a compelling argument.

It also becomes apparent that the core of the problem has not been solved, but has rather changed form. It’s disheartening, because the segment of society who usually fall victim to these kinds of laws are young adults.

The first question that needs to be asked is, was there enough publicity out there for the information to be disseminated to the general public in a way that made an impact on would-be criminals? It will need to be an ongoing public service announcement.

Secondly, with illegal weapons becoming easier to obtain, such policies could lead us down a path of mass incarceration of our young adults. As a country, are we prepared for that without having the appropriate exit strategy in terms of rehabilitation?

I understand we are a country of law and order, but the mere fact of just being in possession of an unregistered firearm carrying such long prison sentence is absurd. We have to look at an individual history of behavior, did he or she posed a threat to public safety at the time of arrest and so on.

For many years I have worked in the crime prevention and mitigation arena and I must say, the most common excuse for those arrested was not the concern of how many years they could get, but the fact that they didn’t think they would get caught. Therefore, it boils down to risk versus reward and the probability of being caught.

This brings me to the point I’m trying to make. Rather than focusing on longer prison sentences to deter violence, why not focus the drivers of violence, and tackle things like skills and technical education of youth, socio-economic inequalities, and access to communal services?

These have proven to have a greater impact. With the downturn of the economy and the high unemployment rate, the National Vocational Technical school that was in the making this year, could certainly help to fill these voids and serve an even greater purpose.

As a matter of fact, studies have shown that prison does not deter crime significantly. Therefore, the $18million that was recently proposed for new prisons, the greater portion of that should be allocated towards prison reform and rehabilitation, not brick and mortar buildings.

By and large, the core mission of the police is to control crime. Therefore, to better engage the public, in my opinion, policing-accountability should include putting realistic crime reduction targets in place that is shared with the public.

For example 20-30% reduction in violence crimes over a certain timeframe, rather than just  bracing for a reduction and them settling for undesirable outcomes. We also need advocates in our court system who are willing to push for more restorative and transformative justice.

The Way Forward:

We need to push for greater spending on crime budgets and criminal justice reform and challenge the current criminal justice system to revisit archaic laws on the books that no longer serve in the best interest of an ever changing society. Also in terms of resources, and a lack of social reintegration programs. This will provide law enforcement and social service agencies with the much needed budgets to spend time on identifying and reducing risk factors for delinquent and criminal behaviors. We must also create crime prevention programs that are evidence-based.

I was always under the assumption that poverty and violent crimes had a direct correlation, but I was wrong, because studies over the years have proven that wrong.

According to a recent research on crimes in Latin American countries, despite improvement in income inequality, in some cases violent crimes continues to increase in scope.

Nevertheless, we know lack of opportunities and intervention programs can impact crime rates. Henceforth, it is now part of our job to look beyond just marginalized or underprivileged communities and find solutions.

To illuminate another critical department that plays a pivotal role in this fight, it’s our child welfare and youth services. Is this department properly equipped with adequate resources to explore the risk factors for why these young men get involve in criminality in the first place?

Also, do they have the ways and means to clearly diagnose the cause with a treatment plan that involves the family and the community?

What safeguards do we have in place and what are we doing differently to avoid our youth from falling through the cracks, especially our young men?

Using new tactics to achieve the same goals is counterproductive.
I have said it before in a previous article and I’ll say it again, risk assessments and data analysis is a must, in order to find effective ways to identify and minimize youth involvement in violent crimes.

The truth be told, noteworthy progress has been made, particularly in the area of Border protection. Nevertheless, we find ourselves in this dangerous position not because something radically different has occurred in our beautiful by nature islands, but because so much of the same has remained. Where is the foresight?

For years, as a country we have managed to steer the right course. We have come too far and worked too hard to let crime derail us. At times, it feels like we have loss our moral compass in that respect, but it’s definitely not who we represent or who we are as a people.

With such a small and close knit population, one would think it should be easier to resolve crimes, but in some cases it’s the opposite. Close knit community sometimes translates into close knit secrets, fear and to avoid humiliation and embarrassment. I implore you to change such culture when it comes to crime against our citizens and visitors alike.

Crime is a matter that should concern all of us, now whether we choose to confront the problem or just look the other way because it hasn’t reached our doorsteps. It’s obviously something we need to tackle head on.

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