Poverty is no excuse for crime
Peeping Tom
Kaieteur News
March 29, 2007

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I am a poor man, but I have this consolation: I am poor by accident, not by design -.

Josh Billings

There is a correlation between poverty and crime. Studies have established a link between poor living conditions, marked by poor public services, and the incidence of crime. Where there is acute poverty and poor living conditions, there tends to be high crime levels. However, correlation and causation are too different things, and to say that poverty breeds crime is to misrepresent the relationship.

Poverty must never be used as an excuse for crime. I have known many families who have lived in dire poverty, yet their offspring never succumbed to the temptation to steal. I know of many a parent, unable to provide the basic necessities of life, yet was able to bring up their children as law-abiding citizens.

I know of children who went to school barefoot with little or nothing in their lunch bags, yet took to their education, worked their way out of poverty and in the process helped their families to move from desperate straits to a more comfortable existence. I know of families who lived all their lives in the ghetto and yet never sought to engage in criminal activities. I therefore cannot accept that poverty should be given as a reason for crime.

I have no sympathies for those who break the law.

I do not share the view that criminals are without human rights. I do not support extra-judicial killings. But I for one will not spare a tear for any criminal who finds him or herself on the wrong side of the law.

I have taught my offspring to detest criminals because there are no human conditions in this country that should force anyone to resort to unlawfully depriving another of his or her property.

In this country, lack of food cannot be an excuse for crime because no matter how poor you are, there is always somewhere or someone you can turn to provide a meal for you.

If you examine the lives of many of our prominent citizens of this country, you will find that many of them have worked themselves from rags to riches. I am disgusted when people envy those who have achieved something in life.

Instead of bad-mouthing others, those who are envious should make themselves better examples of success stories. If you read the biographies of many great leaders, you will also discover that many of them emerged from very humble beginnings. This columnist therefore cannot accept as an excuse for criminal activity someone coming from a poor family.

No matter how poor a family is, it is the responsibility of parents to keep their children in line. There can and ought to be no excuse. We pay a great deal of attention to providing for the material needs of our children. And this is important, but of no less importance is the sort of values we inculcate in our children.

When social scientists speak abut models of development, they often concentrate on the dominant economic system which they see as being critical to engineering growth. Often overlooked in this pre-occupation is the importance of values. And yet for the vast majority of those who have moved from rags to riches, you will find a hunger to succeed, a capacity for hard work and a disciple to perseverance amidst the most insurmountable of challenges. Crime may not so much be caused by material poverty but by poverty of values.

This is why I will continue to insist that parents must be held accountable for their offspring. Parents that teach their children to respect elders, not to follow bad company; parents that keep their children under their watch and ensure that they do not become involved in deviant behaviour will more likely be rewarded with children that they can be proud of.

No matter how poor you are, once you bring up your children with the right values, once you insist on them avoiding bad company, once you reduce their idle hours and ensure they are disciplined, the children will be less inclined to get into criminal activity.

Good parenting requires a clear understating of the priorities. Every parent or guardian should ensure that his or her child secures a solid education. One of the keys to emerging from poverty is to obtain a sound education. There is simply no substitute for this and I have known many a poor individual who has overcome his or her circumstances by simply doing well at school or university and working hard at his or her job.

But while poverty ought not to be an excuse for crime, an often overlooked factor in driving social deviancy is inequality.

In fact, I would want those who have done research on the causes of crime to examine whether there is not a stronger correlation between crime and inequality than there is between living conditions and crime.

Important signs are emerging in countries with high indices of human development. These signals indicate that is less social deviancy in societies where social and economic inequality is not pronounced.

So that while reducing poverty must be a primary goal, it is also important that in reducing poverty, we do not exacerbate social and economic inequality.