The Primary Factors Contributing to Crime and Violence in Jamaica. Jamaica is a society which has been affected by crime and violence over the past years, and is continuously been affect by this phenomenal. Crime and violence involves the intent or use of psychological and physical force or power against oneself or another to do harm (Hoffman, 2009). Jamaica is a country plagued by crime and violence, especially in urban areas. Jamaica since 1977 has become the Caribbean nation with the highest homicide rate in its citizenry and continues to hold this position (Harriott, 2007.) The primary contributing factors for crime and violence in Jamaica is a challenge to identify as crime and violence can thrive in so many environments. However the proximate or primary factors can be classified as; corruption, demographics, unemployment, destabilized family, weak justice system, an interconnecting network of criminal gangs, drugs running, politics and the police.
According to Harriott, Demographics are a background factor which is contributing to crime and violent in Jamaica. In Jamaica the age group 15-29 is held responsible for most of the violent crimes committed within the country. In particular males in this age group are the prime offenders, they are also prime victims. Over the past years the age group 15-29 has being expanding rapidly. As a result the factor behind our high crime rate is the huge population of ages 15 -29. Due to this high percentage in the age group 15-25 there is an increase in juvenile and violent crime especially where there is the availability of guns. Harriott further stated that we currently experiencing the worst demographic factor for m 1985, and this will continue until 2020 where we are expected to see an 87 per cent decline of its 1995 size. Urbanization is the second factor, which in order to understand the demographics factors one must associate the two factors.
Coming from being 30 per cent urban in 1960, Jamaica was about 60 per cent urban in the year 2000. There is also a process of secondary urbanization in St James (3.7 per cent), Mandeville (3.1 per cent), St Ann (2.4 per cent), and Kingston and St Andrew (2.3 per cent) which had the largest percentage increase in population between 1996 and 1998. From these figures above one can say that there is a decline in the rural population and an increase growth for secondary urbanization, in the tourist and bauxite towns of Montego Bay, Mandeville, and Ocho Rios. All parish capitals are experiencing urbanizations; as a result the high risk group (ages 15-29) is being increasingly compacted in dense, poor, urban neighborhoods, (Slums). This problem points to potential for high crimes rates in Kingston and St Andrew and St Catherine, which is also exported to other developing urban centers. High rate of youth employment is also one of the leading factors of crime and violent in Jamaica. The rate of unemployment in Jamaica is 17.5 per cent. .
Unemployment in Jamaica especially among Jamaican teen leads to poverty, idleness, low self-esteem, frustration, and eventually crime and violence according to Don Anderson survey. Employment is seen as the way to survive so without work youths tends to be weaken and consequently this leads to idleness, which leads to badness, gang wars, and crime and violence. Youths also admits that they would have less time and energy to steal and commit other crimes if they were working. Harriott stated that in 1998 the unemployment rate for 14-29 age groups was 26.5 per cent. This rate consists of 18.9 per cent young males, and 35 per cent young females. (Anderson 1998). The unemployment rate for young males (14-29) in Kingston Metropolitan Area was 17.8 per cent in 1998, compared to 26.5 per cent in other towns and 17 per cent in rural areas.
In St A Andrew and Kingston there is a pressure on young males for economic support form baby mothers, mothers, siblings and other family members. This is one of the reasons for robbery, car theft, pick pocketing in the Corporate Area. (Gayle 1999). The high unemployment rate in other rapidly urbanizing inner-city areas such as Ocho Rios, May Pen, Mandeville, Montego Bay and Savanna-la-mar, also will lead to crime disaster as in Kingston and St Andrew. Employment is seen as very beneficiary and not been employed in Jamaica especially its youths can lead to crime and violence among males, and teenage pregnancy and dependency on men, abuse and domestic violence for female. Destabilized family structure including poor parenting can also be look at as a factor that contributes to crime and violence in Jamaica. Jamaican society has been often referred to as a matrifocal society.
Many families are female headed households without the presence of a male figure. Children from these household manifest a number of internalizing and externalizing behavior problems, including sadness, depression, delinquency, aggression, sex role difficulties, early initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy, as well as poor social and adoptive functioning and low self-esteem. The absence of guidance in parental or societal role models leaves a gap which is filled by peer groups, particular among men. According to the Grace Kennedy Foundation lecture (1991), ‘peer group’ actually replaces mother and fathers as the controlling agents. Traditional role models become replaced by gun and this result in the emergence of Dons and Robin hoods. Low self-esteem is also a consequence of poor parenting. Youths with low self-esteem carve respect from peers and others, and if been disrespected this can fuel problems among individuals.
Harriott however stated that countering this however is the gun, which notes “the ultimate guarantor of respect”. With this in view the inner-city don become role model for youths, ‘not only because of their ability to command and dispense largess, but Corruption is also a crucial primary factor. According to Harriott, police that reduce unjust inequalities are likely to reduce some categories of violent crime, but research findings cast some doubts that in Jamaica they would have contribute to the murder rate due to corruption. Transparency international, measured the degree to which corruption exist among public officials and politicians, and produce an annual corruption index. For 2005 Jamaica attained a score of 3.6 out of 10 and rank 64 out of 159 countries surveyed. Organizational crime in Jamaica has been facilitated by corruption, relationship between ordinary criminal gangs and the major political institutions. Harriott further stated that gangs are key players in the processes of political mobilization on the streets, securing electoral victories, and in consolidating power -often because of their hold on communities of the urban poor.
This relationship leads to a flourishing of corruption, and plunder of the resources of the state. Corruption facilitates serious crimes, and endemic corruption, ensures the freedom of action to build successful criminal enterprises. This is most problematic and yet most evident in police service where corruption is endemic and institutionalized. From interviews which were conducted by Special Task on Crime selected JFC personnel from different ranks expressed the view that the majority of their senior officers were corrupt within the Force. Some of these corrupt practices among members of the force include: Contract killing or “murder for hire, tampering with biological exhibits, e.g. urine samples, dropping charges, including serious offences, planting evidence, providing escort for illegal drugs etc.
A weak Criminal Justice System also facilitates criminal activities within the country. Where there are high levels of corruption and influence easily immunizes high-end criminals against police action. This is certainly the case in Jamaica. Moreover, the criminal justice system is, in one respect, antiquated and overload and thus unable to effectively respond to the more sophisticated criminal groups. Harriott stated that associated institutions, including the existing body of laws, are also, in some respects, antiquate for dealing with crime. The case-load of the investigative units of the police is a good indicator of the degree of immunity from law enforcement (not crime-fighting) that is enjoyed by criminals. For effectiveness, the number of investigators should be greater than the number of cases to be investigated. Instead, a single divisional homicide investigator is, for example, burdened with a case-load of twelve to fifteen homicides, and this was in 2000(PERF 2001,49).
Not surprisingly, in 2004, the clear-up rate for murder 9 the number of arrests as a percentage of all reported murders) was 44.8 per cent, and the clear-up rate of violent crimes, that is, the most serious offence against person (murder, shootings, rape and robbery aggregated) was 39.8 per cent (PIOJ2005, 24.30). For serious crimes, the clear-up rates are poor, and given the case-loads ratios, the conviction rates are unsurprisingly low. In the case of murder, the conviction rate is estimates at less than 20 per cent. As a result the justice system in Jamaica is very weak in frightening against crime. Jamaica can be described as an interconnecting network of criminal gangs, drugs running, politics and the police. Therefore Gangs, Drugs and Politics can also be discussed as primary contributing factors to crime and violence in Jamaica. There are about forty- nine active gangs in Jamaica, but only a small number (14 per cent) are highly organized.
According to Harriott the highly organized gangs are deeply involved in the following activities: trafficking cocaine, marijuana and crack, both locally and overseas. It is also said that there is a significant Colombian drugs activity in Jamaica. Another major criminal activity for criminal gangs is protection and extortion rackets in business district in Inner-city areas. Business places pay funds to gangs in order for security, that their business and their customers are not robbed. This money is an important source of income for violent criminal gangs. According to Harriott this is extortion, which is a contributor to violent crimes in Kingston and St Andrew. It is also claimed that highly organized gangs operate a quasi-judicial system, complete with “hearing” witness and a rough schedule of punishment, including incarceration and the death penalty. Theses criminal gangs are also allegedly engaged in the large scale illegal importation of goods such as red peas, onions and cooking oil. Harriott stated that is may not directly constitute violent crime, nonetheless strengthens these groups economically, weakens legitimate firms, etc. major gangs are said to be connected to the major political parties.
This relationship between gang and political parties stands to be beneficial to both sides. In election gangs secure votes for political parties, and keep the peace during civil disturbances, which the most important benefit for gang’s from political parties is protection from police. According to Harriott the main criminal gangs and the political parties have major stake in maintaining the existing corrupt relationship. Jamaica has been significantly affected by violence and crime. Violent crimes are one of Jamaica’s major issues, for the past twenty year. According to Harriott the country has experience an overwhelming increase in murders and related assaults. The World Bank noted that crime is undermining growth, threatening human welfare, and impeding social development. Therefore the government and citizens of Jamaica has to take serious measures to reduce or eliminate the primary factors contributing to crime and violence.
According to Harriott the only long term sustainable solution to the violent crimes problem in Jamaica is the recovery of the formal economy. Therefore the government must continue its programme of macroeconomic management. This may have short term negative social consequences, but in the end will lead to more job creation and a reduction in crime. Harriott further stated that the government must embark on a programme, however limited of formal economic activities in the inner city. The government could also develop a programme of physical upgrading in the inner city. This could involve fixing drains, improving sanitation, roads surfaces and housing, and beautification.
This could add real value to properties in the inner city, as well as generating employment and improving the already and demoralizing physical environment. The failure of the educational system, for both the employed and unemployed have to be rectified also. One the government needs to find the causes of the high male drop- out rate. The NPC could also develop a special task force on education and training, and a mandate to begin the necessary and urgent programme of restructuring and reprogramming. The most immediate measure which can be taken by the government is to control gun and ammunition.
Government of Jamaica. (2007). National Security Policy – Towards a Secure and Prosperous Nation. Kingston: Government of Jamaica.
Gutierrez, I. M. (2009). Development and implementation of crime and violence observatories: A tool for public policy. III Inter-American Forum on Violence Prevention and Citizen Security: Addressing Crime and Violence in the Latin American and Caribbean Region. Kingston. Jamaica: Jamaica Conference Centre.
Harriott, A. D. (2008). Bending the trend line: The challenge of controlling violence in Jamaica and the high violence societies of the Caribbean.
Harriott, A.D.(2008). Organized Crime and Politics in Jamaica: Breaking the Nexus. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press.
Harriott, A.D. Understanding Crime in Jamaica; New challenges for public policy. Kingston: University of the West Indies Press.
Hoffman, J. S. (2009). Engaging citizens in crime and violence prevention: Emerging approaches. III Inter- in American Forum on Violence Prevention and Citizen Security: Addressing Crime and Violence the Latin American and Caribbean Region. Kingston, Jamaica: Jamaica Conference Centre.
McLean, J., Harriott, A., Ward, E., Buchannan, J., and Karia, R. 2008. Jamaica Community-Based Policing Assessment. Kingston: Jamaica Constabulary Force and USAID.