Prime Minister Holness failed to tell the nation that the Opposition’s position is commensurate with that of the nation’s supreme court, which said that the prolonged detention of five men under the states of emergency was unconstitutional.
The Opposition’s main concern has been the lack of discretion in the use of the powers of detention by the security forces, indefinitely locking up poor people’s children without their having recourse to the courts or a tribunal where their innocence or guilt can be proven.
However, according to Holness, “It is incredibly frustrating, that right when we had applied the right measures, the right tools to show that we can use the [security] forces without violence, we can give extraordinary powers, greater accountability, as we can get results, for political reasons it was oppose, oppose, oppose at every turn.”
“For what reason? To just come here and show a graph? That's it? When, if it was supported, right now the entire country would have been celebrating an even deeper fall in crime,” Holness lamented.
But what is the Peoples National Party’s position on crime? This was outlined in the Opposition Leader’s presentation to Parliament which did not get much play in the media, because many media personnel were caught up with the disappearance of a vial of vaccine which loses its potency, and be of no use to anyone, after being out of refrigeration.
The following represents the PNP’s position in relation to the party’s approach to crime and violence as outlined in Mark Golding’s 1921-22 budget debate presentation.
Madame Speaker, violent crime has been a major cause of Jamaica’s economic underperformance for decades. According to the World Bank, crime results in direct costs to Jamaica of nearly 4% of GDP, which is higher than most other countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. It is therefore surprising that the Minister of Finance had nothing much to say about crime in his budget presentation.
The human toll of violent crime in Jamaica is also severe. Apart from the tragic impact on the victims, their families and friends, it depresses national morale and undermines our hopes and aspirations for the future.
Jamaica has been burdened with an exceptionally high violent crime rate for decades. The causes are complex, and include the impact of transnational organized crime, local criminal gangs, poor social conditions in many communities, and dysfunctional aspects of our culture which are sometimes legitimized in the popular culture.
International best practice confirms that a balanced approach, using both crime control as well as crime prevention measures, yields the best long-term results in the sustained reduction of violent crime.
That is why the last PNP administration launched the Unite for Change Initiative in 2013, which involved educating citizens on the root causes of the epidemic of violence, igniting their passion, energies, and commitment to reverse it, and creating pathways to move people from concern to action. The Unite for Change Initiative, along with the CSJP III, sought to institutionalize crime prevention approaches within Jamaica’s national security strategy.
Regrettably, the Unite for Change Initiative was discontinued by the current Government when it assumed office in 2016. Since 2016, social interventions have been minimized or abandoned, in favour of an authoritarian or “tough policing” approach, but without any clear dividends. Under the Holness administration:
1. The force strength of the military (JDF) is growing rapidly, and on its current trajectory could exceed that of the police (JCF) within a few years.
2. The States of Emergency (SOE) were used as a routine crime fighting tool for three years from 2017 to 2020, allowing the military to operate autonomously of the police, and allowing citizens to be detained without charge for indefinite periods. This use of States of Emergency ceased when the Supreme Court ruled that such use is unconstitutional.
3. The capital budget of the military has far outstripped that of the JCF.
Notwithstanding consistent and well-funded messaging promoting this militarized approach, there is empirical evidence of the failure of these measures. For example
- In 2020 Jamaica had the highest homicide rate in the Western Hemisphere, at 46.5 per 100,000.
- Statistics up to March 13, 2021 show that murders (294) and shootings (273) continue at an unacceptably high rate, increasing by 6% and 8% respectively relative to the same period in 2020.
- The clear-up rate for murder is very low (32%), showing weaknesses in intelligence and investigative capabilities. This has worsened as a result of over-reliance on the extraordinary detention powers provided by SOEs in the 2017-2020 period. Having detained suspects using the power of the SOE, the State did not build a case against the vast majority of the people who were detained.
- The 2019 Crime Victimization Survey shows that the percentage of persons who feel safe walking at night in their communities has fallen from 81% in 2015, down to 69% in 2018/19.
- The average number of murders each year under this Government has substantially exceeded the average annual figure during the previous PNP administration.
This terrible record of performance is remarkable, given the extraordinary powers provided to the security forces by the 2017-2020 SOEs, and the vastly increased resources available to national security due to the success of Jamaica’s fiscal programme.
Our belief is that adequate resources through social investment for crime prevention are central to any efforts for sustained violence reduction. Jamaica’s best hope is to tackle the major root causes of violent crime in a systematic way, while also properly equipping the security forces and the justice system with the tools, technology and human resources to carry out their work. We cannot be successful doing one without the other.
The PNP is committed to a balanced approach with well-designed preventive measures, such as:
1. Training and deployment of Violence Interrupters under the Peace Management Initiative;
2. Restorative Justice actively promoted by the Ministry of Justice and used extensively in the Justice System;
3. School-wide positive behavioural intervention support through the Ministry of Education;
4. Specific interventions aimed at keeping youth in school, and post-secondary employability training;
5. Positive parenting to mitigate against children adopting criminal behaviour; and
6. Incarceration being used primarily as an opportunity for rehabilitation, rather than only for punishment.
There is now an opportunity to reset our approach and to return to a balanced methodology to reducing crime, via the mechanisms of the Crime Consensus Plan and the Crime Management Oversight Committee.
The Opposition was instrumental in the establishment of these mechanisms in 2019, and we are committed to supporting them. However, their success will require honesty and transparency, both between the main political parties and with the broader public.
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