Small Islands Voice Global Forum
Reducing crime and violence: education versus harsh penalties
Several people responded to the recent newspaper article discussing how to deal with an epidemic of youth violence in a small island in the Caribbean. Most writers were in favour of the long-term approach involving more education, but others felt that harsher remedies were required.
Among those favouring the long-term approach, a Cook Islander responded: the Cook Islands (Pacific) luckily aren’t as violent as where this story took place, but violence is increasing. As much as I would like to support this view of harsher penalties, we must remember that they are first our own children who we disregarded, ignored and abused, and who are now resorting to such violent crimes against society and yet are so ignorant that they think nothing will happen to them. Maybe in order to stop something as serious as this, we must first deal with the little things in life - as the saying goes ‘It's the little things in life that count the most.’
Continuing on the same theme, a writer from Niue (Pacific) wrote: unfortunately these things happen, even in our small islands. We cannot predict these things but we can do something to avoid them from happening. Like the article says, most of these incidents came about because of gangs. Bring back the death penalty - but will that stop these senseless killings? I think it boils down to upbringing and family relationships. I can go on and on, but imposing tough sentences might create other problems. Education, I think, would be a better solution - it won't solve the problem immediately but perhaps in the long term.
Joan Robinson from Nevis (Caribbean) suggests that violent television programmes and video games contribute to the increase of incidents such as this one. While another islander questions: why don’t you highlight good stories, because there are more joyous and good things happening in our small islands than sad stories such as this!
Taking a different view, Bob Conrich notes: Anguilla, a Caribbean British Overseas Territory, is noted for its peace and tranquillity. But things are changing. In St. Maarten, a short ferry boat ride away, the drug dealers have recently added handguns to their inventory. At US$500 each, they have been used in several recent shootings.
Many of the churches in Anguilla are extremely conservative. Furthermore, the recent abolishment of the death penalty in the British Overseas Territories was met by wide disapproval here – not because it is believed to be a deterrent, nor because it is viewed as fitting punishment (‘an eye for an eye’), but simply because violent revenge is a principal among our people. To now suggest that people should be able to talk to their children and encourage non-violent methods to resolve differences is to ignore the religious and social realities of life today in the West Indies. I'm sorry, but I don't believe young people are waiting for these platitudes to guide their behaviour at the next gang fight.
Bruce Potter provides another perspective: rates of violent crime in small islands are frequently much higher than in continental societies. In the US Virgin Islands, a former Congressman lost his only political contest in a long career when he campaigned for Governor in 1978 on the issue of the very high local crime rates, which were (and still are) much higher than in even the most violent US cities. My own impression is that violent crime is a symptom of the stresses of modern society and their impacts on small islands, but I have not studied crime rates versus other indicators of social stress. The late Klaus de Albuquerque believed that drug trafficking was a major source of crime of all sorts in the Eastern Caribbean.
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