Key Regional Issues In Crime And Justice: The Caribbean
by Ramesh Deosaran, Ph.D.
July 20, 2003
Professor of Criminology & Director, Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice
The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago
Position Paper presented on June 27, 2003 to Meeting of Experts sponsored by the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute
(held June 26 to 28, 2003) in Turin, Italy in preparation for the
2004/05 UN World Crime and Justice Report.
This summary will provide first of all a quick overview of the key issues now affecting the Caribbean region and which, apart from “traditional” crimes, show strong signs of becoming much more serious in the years ahead. Here we will also argue the case for treating the Caribbean as its own region and not be subsumed within or along with Latin American in reports dealing with crime, social or economic data. Thirdly, we will present a brief for the way forward in treating with crime and justice in the Caribbean.
Far too often, data on social and economic indicators in the Caribbean has fallen under the category “Latin America and the Caribbean.” The Caribbean is, however, a far different place from Latin America in terms of, for example, culture, political and legal systems, and even trading patterns. Therefore, when data is grossly subsumed under the general category of “Latin American and the Caribbean,” it gives a distorted profile of regional trends, the causes for such trends and in particular, the solutions required for needy areas.
All in all, the Caribbean region carries about 20 votes at the UN. The time has come for international bodies such as the World Bank and the agencies of the United Nations in particular, to treat the Caribbean as its own category for social, economic and crime data.
Even so, however, a determination will have to be made about which part or parts of the Caribbean will comprise “the Caribbean” for such data compilation. For such a purpose, it is quite convenient to count the data from those states, which comprise the Caribbean Community (Caricom), that is the fifteen Caribbean countries, most with British traditions. This will include Jamaica starting from the north, through Barbados and the Bahamas, to Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana in the south of the Caribbean Sea.
Among the key issues now affecting this region are:
(1) Their trans-shipment location. Increasingly, the data show that some of these Caribbean states are being used as trans-shipment points for illegal drugs (cocaine) shipped to North America and Europe. There has been a very significant increase from l990 to 2002 (e.g., UNODC reports). At the same time, illegal arms are being shipped into these countries at increasing rates. In June 2002, Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister publicly stated that the rise in the entry of illegal arms from South America to Trinidad and Tobago was contributing to the rise in serious crimes in this country. All in all, therefore, it is in the mutual interest of the Caribbean, the United States and Europe, to work out mutually beneficial agreements and security treaties to reduce these illegal drugs-arms flow. Such flows and their consequences make all connected regions vulnerable. In this sense, the Caribbean occupies a very strategic location. This matter is now high on the agenda of the various regional bodies dealing with Caribbean security: for example, the Regional Security System, the Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police, the Caribbean Task Force on Money Laundering and the Caricom Task Force on Crime and Security.
(2) Since the majority of these Caribbean states depend heavily on the tourist trade for their economic development, any incidents of serious crime, especially crimes against tourists, produce very adverse consequences. On several recent occasions, special delegations from some of these states have had cause to work hard at reversing or modifying “travel safety advisories” from the developed countries which warn visitors about travelling to the Caribbean. Special visitor safety systems and training programmes for security staff are needed so as to help prevent the adverse effects of serious crimes upon the tourist industry. Of course, apart from its tourist connection, the rate of serious crimes in itself in these Caribbean countries has been a matter of grave concern in recent years. The crime fluctuates very much from one state to another. For example, in 2002, the serious crime rate in St. Kitts-Nevis was 44 per 1,000 persons, in St. Lucia 82 per 1,000 and in Trinidad and Tobago 13 per 1,000 persons. The need for citizen participation and support for the police in the fight against crime has been repeatedly emphasized.1
(3) The vulnerability of the United States is again implicated in the new thrust by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago to lay down pipes to convey gas from Trinidad to the US. At present Trinidad and Tobago is the largest single supplier of natural gas to the eastern U.S. (80%). There are also several large-scale oil and energy investments by U.S. firms in Trinidad. The security threats to these industries and their consequences for the U.S. are becoming increasingly apparent and crucial. The Caribbean region has already had a fair share of serious terrorism. Subversive groups reside in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana and many of the smaller Caribbean states, all prepared to strike when the opportunity arises. Some of these subversive elements are now embedded in the political life of some Caribbean countries. It is therefore in the interests of both the U.S. and the Caribbean to strengthen the security systems within the Caribbean.
(4) Many of the smaller states (e.g., the Eastern Caribbean states) have been providing offshore banking services to customers in the developed world. In fact, such services contributed much to the treasury of these states. This recently became a very controversial issue in the area of white-collar crime. Allegations were made as to the vulnerability of such offshore banking facilities to money-laundering practices. The OECS placed these Caribbean states on a “black list” to which several protests were made. While there has been easing up on the black list, the matter occupies an ominous position in the link between crime and business in the Caribbean. In fact, offshore banking and its reputed implications for money laundering will be an increasingly serious matter in the Caribbean in the years ahead.
(5) A related issue is the role of “election financing” in the government of Caribbean states. It is well known and, in fact, often admitted, that financial donations are provided from business and other private sources to the election campaigns of political parties in the Caribbean. While in principle such support helps to serve the purpose of democratic elections, the influence over the policies and decisions of elected governments in the Caribbean seems to be unduly tied to the source of such campaign donations, thereby attracting great public unease. This is a key issue for another related reason. In some Caribbean states, strong suspicions exist over the connections between such election donation and drug trafficking and money laundering. The burning question remains: Can a government whose election victory is helped by such donations really make laws or implement policies that will affect the business of such donors? All this suggests that while street crimes (e.g., robberies, assault) attract widespread public attention, such “higher-up” crimes are very serious for proper governance and do subvert respect for the rule of law.
(6) Political corruption and the entire issue of integrity in pubic life are now gaining sharper focus from Caribbean citizens and some legislatures in the Caribbean. Numerous allegations, and quite a few court cases, are now in motion against politicians in some Caribbean states. This issue is sometimes related to campaign financing.
(7) There is a significant increase in the number of gambling houses across the Caribbean. Such increase is no doubt connected to accommodate the tourist industry, but more and more local residents are being attracted to these gambling casinos. The current concern is that such gambling industry will soon become heavily hooked to drug and prostitution trafficking.
(8) The use of force by police is fast becoming another key issue in the Caribbean. In the face of rising fears over serious crimes, and as the accompanying public pressure for law enforcement mounts, and as the various governments struggle to respond to such public pressure, the use of force by the police is not only increasing but apparently more tolerated by the public. In one country in 2002, Jamaica, 140 deaths resulted from shoot-outs with the police. Across the Caribbean, 40 officers were killed in the first six months of 2003. The issue for citizens and policy-makers is this: When the authorities initially delay effective action against serious crimes, and when such crimes eventually escalate, the public mood becomes hungry for repressive action. And as such, the use of force becomes not only a convenient option but also one that pleases the public. Two fundamental issues remain: Why was the crime situation allowed to remain and grow in seriousness in the first place? And how effective will such repressive law enforcement measures be in the long run?
(9) Deportees convicted for crimes in North America, especially in the United States, are now a matter of great worry to Caribbean states. These deportees are now being returned from the U.S. to the Caribbean at an estimated rate of 1,000 per year and rising. Many of these deportees, according to the authorities, get involved in serious crimes once they return to the native lands in the Caribbean. Several attempts have been made by Caribbean states to have the return of such criminals stopped, or have the policy supported by some financial aid, or at least be properly monitored with the required documentation supplied on a timely manner. In all cases, such negotiations so far have met with little or no success.
(10) Kidnapping for ransom has now struck some Caribbean states, especially Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, with fearsome force. In Trinidad and Tobago, there has been a 300% increase in kidnapping from l995 to 2002. In Guyana, in the first six months of 2003, 20 kidnappings have occurred - an unprecedented rate. It is now believed that kidnapping will be the serious crime of the future, partly replacing bank-holdups and large-scale robberies, especially since the large ransoms demanded are now paid and the arrest rate relatively low. The police have set up special squads and U.S.-led training programmes.
(11) In all Caribbean states, the rate of school violence and delinquency is causing great concern to citizens and public officials. The use of illegal drugs is also significant in schools. This rate seems all set to rise in the years ahead and with grave consequences for the serious crime rate across the Caribbean. It is known that many of these school delinquents go on to commit serious crimes in adult life and even after placement in juvenile homes, the rate of recidivism is 50 to 60%. Given the existing pressures for law enforcement and incarceration policies across the Caribbean, the options for crime prevention and alternatives to incarceration are usually shoved out of the way or put lower on the legislative agenda.
(12) While both police reform and prison reform are now widely seen by civil groups and citizens at large as being of urgent importance, the pace of such reforms either through the Caribbean legislatures or through the public service bureaucracy is rather slow. Among the reasons for such delays is the lack of political consensus and once again, the pressures for rigid law enforcement and imprisonment. Even in the midst of such pressures, however, in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, significant moves have been made towards both police and prison reforms but still with a long way to go in actual implementation of policies.
(13) The police and the prison sit at extreme ends of the administration of justice. In the middle is the judicial system. Overall, all these institutions comprise the administration of justice. Across the Caribbean, the conviction rate for serious crimes reported is around 10%. The rate of recidivism is around 60%. Judicial sentencing is another area, which attracts grave public concern. The need for sentencing guidelines is slow in being fulfilled. Case backlogs are huge and very prohibitive for swift justice, effective witness presentations, among others. Case adjournments day after day is the rule rather than the exception in the magistrate courts. While in St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago, concerted attempts are made, especially through case management systems, the backlog has been so horrific - some cases as old as 12 years - that such systems will take some time to establish their effectiveness.
(14) Crime data across the Caribbean is in a very untidy and inefficient state, to say the least. There are no systematic ways of reporting crime data across the Caribbean. In addition, the same offence (e.g., robbery) is described differently from one state to another. The compilation, reporting and dissemination procedures need quick improvements. Reflecting its colonial past, the police on the whole do not see it as a duty to disclose the crime figures regularly and publicly. A similar situation exists for prison figures and other crime related data. The Caribbean now needs very urgently a fresh, modernized understanding of the role of crime data for civil society and good governance. Given the increasing thrust towards community policing across the Caribbean, the use of detailed crime data will be of increasing importance. Such data will help serve as a magnet for attracting and sustaining public support for community policing in the Caribbean.
(15) We wish to emphasize that, given its state of crime and the conditions which relate to such crimes, the Caribbean now needs to be treated as a region separate from Latin America. For one thing, this will help create the required focus for governments and citizens alike to work towards reducing the crime trends listed above.
THE WAY FORWARD: SELECTED ISSUES
There are five key areas in which urgent attention and sustained remedies are required as priorities. The first is on police reform and re-visiting the objectives and operations of police work. The second pertains to the administration of justice, that is, the processing and determination of cases. The third key area is politics and public policy. The fourth is the need for a more sophisticated and responsive crime reporting, data collection and retrieval system. The fifth is penal reform and sentencing. Brief comments will be provided on these five key areas.
Policing in the Caribbean remains stuck with a conceptual and operational dilemma. Spawned by the narrow security needs of the plantation system and supported by the British tradition of imperial control, Caribbean policing has been largely confined to functions of social control of the working classes. While social control is a typical function of police across the world, because of the plantation labour and race antagonisms in the Caribbean, there has been a very hostile divide between the police and the mass of citizens. In recent times, however, the serious attempts to introduce a socially oriented form of community policing has been met with little or no success.
The main reason for such failure is the growing and highly visible need for law enforcement measures. On the face of widespread public and government concerns over the serious crime rate, from Jamaica to Guyana, the rhetoric for community policing is shoved in the shadows with the pressures for heavy law enforcement in great public demand. While in the long run, and as a crime prevention and information-gathering device, community policing will certainly be of great help to these Caribbean countries, the public mood and political expediency make it a dim prospect, at least in the near future.
In terms of decision-making theory, a person is likely to commit a crime if he knows the odds of detection and conviction are relatively low. The rate of crime detection across the Caribbean remains around 30% with the conviction rate for reported serious crimes at around 10%. Added to this is the well-known heavy case backlog in the Supreme Courts and especially in the Magistrates’ Courts across the Caribbean. Such inefficiencies and blockages within the administration of justice attract further criminality. Public policy on crime has been driven largely by the fluctuating moods of the electoral and political expediency. For example, even though the death penalty is almost now impossible to carry out in the Caribbean, and though the murder rate still climbs, no Caricom government sees any political virtue in abolishing the death penalty.
Further, in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, there have been several Crime Committees and Crime Commissions appointed between 1990 and 2002 to examine the problem of crime and violence. What the political directorates select for implementation are usually the very short-term recommendations with public appeal such as longer sentences and more legislation. Other long-term recommendation such as alternatives to incarceration or community strengthening, etc. are left on the shelves.
The fourth key area - crime statistics - remains a very neglected aspect of policing. In order to drive effective policing on the basis of strategic intelligence, and especially for crimes such as kidnapping and terrorism, a sophisticated system of crime reporting, compilation, retrieval and dissemination is an imperative. The traditional methods of bookkeeping and storage still persist in many Caricom states. The problem is not only the methods of compilation and retrieval. The fact is that, even with available computers, such information is usually stored in such global fashion, thereby making it impossible at any required moment to find out exactly what the crime trends are at any particular police station district (see, e.g., Deosaran, 2001 for a fuller examination of this problem and its adverse effects upon community policing). The related deficiency is the lack of victimization surveys across the Caribbean as a means of supplementing the official police records.
With a prisoner recidivism rate of around 60% across the Caribbean, one would think that Caribbean governments would be in a haste to seek alternatives to such imprisonment. Indeed, some countries, for example, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago are looking this way, but still too slowly given the enormity of the problem. For example, while the recommended ratio is four prisoners to a cell, in almost all Caribbean countries the ratio is around 8 prisoners per cell. Apart from prisons being heavily over-crowded, the need to rehabilitate prisoners remains a burning issue in order to reduce the rather high rate of recidivism across the Caribbean.
These matters therefore range from institutional strengthening to process management and public confidence. Such matters as outlined above need urgent attention by the Governments in order to deal effectively with the serious and escalating problems of crime in the Caribbean.
1. In the last 25 years, several crime reduction and crime prevention proposals were made to some governments in the region, these have met with mixed results at implementation (for example, in Trinidad and Tobago, a 12-Point National Action Plan Against Crime (NAPAC) was submitted in 1996. A similar plan was developed and also submitted to the Government of Grenada in 1996. In 1977, a proposal for the implementation of a National Crime Commission was made. At the 2002 Caricom Heads of Government Summit, this proposal for implementing a National Crime Commission in each Caricom state was accepted as policy for implementation. In 1995, an Implementation Plan on Mediation Centres as a Community Alternative to Litigation for Young First Time Offenders was submitted and accepted as policy by the Government of Trinidad and Tobago. This proposal was also used in the drafting of legislation approved by Parliament and now known as the Community Mediation Act, Act No. 13 of 1998. A proposal for a National Commission on Crime was submitted and accepted by the Government of St. Lucia in 2001. This was followed by the formal launch of this country's National Crime Commission in January 2003. In 2002 and 2003 in Trinidad and Tobago, several policy proposals were made on community policing and organizational readiness, juvenile delinquency and prison recidivism and penal reform (e.g., (1) A Human Resource Survey of Community Policing and Organizational Readiness in the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, (2) Quality Benchmarking and Police Performance: Readiness for Community Policing, (3) Prison Recidivism: Towards Reduction, Rehabilitation and Reform and (4) Benchmarking Violence and Delinquency in the Secondary School: Towards a Culture of Peace and Civility). The Ministry of National Security and Rehabilitation is currently prioritizing recommendations made in the reports on community policing and prison reform for implementation; the Ministry of Education is moving ahead in having the recommendations in the latter report on school violence and delinquency implemented.
Deosaran, R. (1977). A Proposal for a National Crime Commission. Policy Proposal submitted to Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
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___________. (1996). 12-Point National Action Plan Against Crime (NAPAC). Research and Policy Proposal. Trinidad: University of the West Indies, St. Augustine Campus, Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice.
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