Education and Practical Deterrence Strategies Will Prevent People from Committing Crimes; Not Unproven Theories

Education and Practical Deterrence Strategies Will Prevent People from Committing Crimes; Not Unproven Theories

Recently, I was on a call exploring the intricacies of Diaspora engagement. In my preparation for the dialogue, I wanted to make sure I could explain Diaspora Engagement before I went on the show. Three of the more popular definitions of Diaspora engagements for Jamaica are strategy # 1) the government of Jamaica developing measures aimed at engaging, maintaining, or developing a relationship with their Diaspora living abroad (Global Jamaica Diaspora Council, (GJDC) and Strategy #2) a cross-sectoral sharing of skillsets and resources by migrated Jamaicans to effectively assist national development in their original home country (Diaspora Movement (DM). Lastly, migrated Jamaicans work together in their host country to advance themselves in their job, political leadership, and community to build the brand Jamaica globally (Diaspora Community Development).

I was happy to be on the Mek Wi Talk Show for a one-on-one discussion on Diaspora engagement. However, I was surprised when the host said others would join; three others did. I didn’t mind, however, because any opportunity to banter with other key individuals in the Diaspora is another opportunity to center the message on Diaspora engagements. After an hour and a half, I had to exit the show and return to work. Upon leaving the show, I needed to explore the topic of crime in Jamaica more, as there wasn’t enough time for me to opine on the matter adequately. It is an important topic, so I decided to write this article. 

Just before I ended the call, the discussions turned to how the Diaspora could help reduce crime in Jamaica. Of course, strategy #2 (above) in Diaspora engagement applies. This approach is where the Diaspora can help provide some guided, planned, and approved resources to help police leadership think through innovative solutions that will work. Any such intervention is expected to be implemented only by the country’s security forces.

One panelist asked me for my solutions to reduce the high crime rate in Jamaica. With only limited time, as an educator, I knew that the resolution of crime is a challenging fix because of scarce resources. I responded, however, with a long-term solution, the most effective and sure way: to use educational resources already at work and require minimal additional inputs. Such a singular approach, however, would take time to work. I outlined some strategies, starting at the early childhood education level, explaining the benefits of “bending the tree the way you want it to grow.” However, legitimately, the best way to reduce crime is to provide education and other practical deterrence strategies to prevent people from committing crimes.  My suggestion should have been welcomed. Another solution was offered instead.  

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Many in the criminal justice circle know that Jamaica has a big problem with crime and will have difficulty effectively reducing crime quickly. It will not be “an overnight affair.” New York City took many years to bring serious crime, which was high from the 1970s to 1990s, to a manageable rate. Still, there are complaints from the community about high crime. Reducing crime today requires enormous resources, the adoption of crime theories, and the application of intentional strategies that will offer a deterrent effect. 

The solution my colleague offered in return for crime solution on the Mek Wi Talk Show is that “suing corrupt public and elected officials will reduce crime.”Incidentally, the next day, I learned of another theory floated and being discussed across Jamaica: “More stringent and mandatory minimum sentencing will reduce crime.” I disagree with both theories, as the majority in the criminology and criminal justice arena.  There is no evidence to support either theory. 

First, no statistically significant relationship exists between suing corrupt politicians and crime reduction. Such activities are complex and nuanced. They are also rare as politicians often control the police, prosecutors, courts, and justice systems, making it difficult to hold them accountable. Some challenges in prosecuting politicians include the complexity of corruption crimes, weak penalties compared to other crimes, lack of specialized knowledge and capacity in law enforcement, and insufficient inter-agency coordination. 

Filing lawsuits against corrupt state officials as a deterrent requires overcoming challenges such as excessive resource requirements – you need a lot of money for attorneys and court costs because resolving them will take many years. The suing person or organization will require specialized training to gain proper approvals and coordination between various agencies. After such cases are completed, a reduction in high criminality is not guaranteed. In the United States, such lawsuits are generally dismissed anyway because the courts ruled that this would distract the president from duties and responsibilities. There is no evidence of a direct relationship between crime reduction and suing politicians.  

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In the same way, research does not support that stringent mandatory minimum sentencing for murder or illegal g possession of guns reduces violent crime rates. It is well known that people who commit crimes either don’t know or care about the law. Today, courts worldwide still apply the thoughts of Cesare Beccaria (the father of criminology), whose treatise on Crime and Punishment in 1864 asked that the law cease using excessive punishment for crime. He felt those laws were too brutal and prehistoric. Beccaria believed the punishment must fit the crime. He also believed in creating a balanced deterrent system and punishment involving a three-pronged approach: certainty, celerity, and severity of punishment. First, for deterrence to work, every person must believe that if they commit a crime, punishment (for example, sentencing) is “certain.” Prosecutors must have a solid case to present to the court for conviction and sentencing, to be specific and certain. Secondly, citizens must also believe such punishment will be swift (celerity). Once the court convicts a person, they are immediately punished; there should be no waiting around. Prisoner must know why they are being punished and associate their punishment with the crime they committed. Lastly, the punishment is proportional to the crime. In Retributive Justice (Beccaria), legal punishment requires the offender to receive a punishment for a crime proportional to or similar to its offense.

Studies in New York and Massachusetts show no clear evidence of a reduction in murders in their stringent mandatory minimum laws, and the laws do not make citizens fear any safer. One of the significant disadvantages of mandatory minimum sentencing is an explosion in the prison population and an uptick in cost to the state for infrastructure and maintenance. Does Jamaica have the money? We must consider deterring crime more than reacting to crime. Excessive punishment is senseless, brutal, costly, and not rehabilitative. 

The most practical ways that the Diaspora can help reduce crime is by helping to address the underlying factors that contribute to crime, such as lack of access to healthcare, behavioral health issues, education, and environmental toxins.  To offer direct assistance to law enforcement, the Diaspora should also acquire advanced knowledge in criminal justice and criminology, consistently offering their help to the Ministry of National Security, the Police Federation, the police academy, and other policing organizations, and helping them develop focused deterrent and policing strategies within the country’s policing plan. These strategies include problem-oriented policing targeting high-risk places, offenders, and victims, analyzing crime patterns to identify the most significant drivers of violence, and focusing limited enforcement resources on those factors.

Also, the Diaspora could help Improve the physical environment in high-crime areas by using their resources to fix distressed spaces (hot spots and corners), making crime attractors less appealing, and redesigning the layout of buildings and public areas to reduce opportunities for crime. Additionally, it can offer community engagement, working with residents and stakeholders to better understand local crime drivers and develop tailored prevention and intervention strategies. This helps build trust and legitimacy between police and the community. Lastly, evidence-based programs (EBP) should be implemented to address risk factors for crime, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of education, and help provide job training, youth development, and mentorship.   

By combining some or all of these strategies and working with law enforcement in partnership with other public and private organizations, agencies, groups, and residents, the Diaspora can help measure outcomes by actual reductions in violent crime, assess the effectiveness, and show how to use existing resources to maximize crime prevention and intervention. The Diaspora should concentrate on scientific solutions and interventions that are tried and tested in police organizations across jurisdictions that will make a difference to the country’s people that we love to love. They should identify gaps and challenges and apply those resources to the issues.  

Filing lawsuits against corrupt politicians to reduce crime will face significant challenges and wasted time, effort, and resources that could otherwise be used to provide needy resources for the benefit of the people of Jamaica. Instead, we can provide capacity building to help our government, agencies, and private citizens make decisions that satisfy them. Help them determine whether they need mandatory minimum sentencing as a part of crime fighting and crime reduction strategies. At the same time, our government should implement better deterrence solutions to reduce crime. Research does not support more stringent mandatory minimum sentencing.  

Leo Gilling is the Diaspora Strategist & Engagement Advocate and Chairman Jamaica Diaspora Taskforce Action Network (JDTAN)

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