In an effort to further promote public dialogue on sanctions reform across the Caribbean, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has invited international experts and local thought leaders to offer their views on major issues that need to be addressed with them to improve correctional outcomes. In January 2021, the Bank will also hold virtual conferences in a number of countries across the region, including Guyana, to discuss innovative solutions for achieving the goal of joint prisoner rehabilitation that could be pursued among key stakeholders. We invite you to contribute to the discourse.
Given our reliance on punitive measures, many have come to believe that less crime lies in more prisons and stronger punishments. However, crime prevention is about promoting healthy family units, economic development and rehabilitation programs in disadvantaged communities.
It is a common fact that children repeat the behaviors around them. Those who have grown up in safe, comfortable homes that provide for their development more often than not, would grow up to make a positive contribution to society. However, those who have grown up in homes and communities filled with violence and economic instability are far more likely to go the path of deviance.
This view was supported by the Guyana Government “Guy of Inmates in Guyana” and the Inter-American Development Bank. I and many have long harmed the effects of abuse, so I was glad of the opportunity to examine the narrative data of the study and comment on elements of it.
With colonial histories steeped in violence, the abuse of women and children is largely an accepted part of Caribbean culture. This normalization underestimates the causes of abuse of physical, mental and psychological harm on the development of the young and vulnerable. The study found that the majority of “prisoners were exposed to physical abuse and different criminogenic contexts when they were children.” In the end, many turned to substances to cope.
Fifty-eight percent of prisoners said they had used marijuana, and the second most alleged offense for detaining prisoners was drug possession or drug dealing. The use and sale of drugs has many negative connotations that see the prioritization of punishment over rehabilitation. However, a reduced focus on prison would provide scope to focus on effective rehabilitation programs and mechanisms to support trauma victims or those experiencing significant hardship. Trauma-focused care would also promote non-violence as the need for power and control over others will diminish.
Untreated violence and its associated trauma can affect the whole of life, as it is a related cause and the result of intergenerational poverty. The 2003 World Bank Caribbean Youth Development Country Study asked that households with lower income levels have higher rates of domestic violence than those with higher income levels (53). Poverty exacerbates violence as it makes it difficult for women to leave abusive situations. It also assists in perpetrating violence as abusers seek ways to gain power over others due to the absence of economic stability.
Limited income also contributes to lack of access to educational and development opportunities. Overall, findings (IDB) show that 80% of prisoners had not completed secondary education or had never attended secondary school. In our merit-based society, a lack of educational development helps maintain intergenerational poverty as disadvantaged communities often have poor educational facilities and / or parents or guardians cannot afford the basic necessities for their children’s education.
This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that many of these homes are headed by single parent matriarchs. The absence of a structured family unit can contribute to intergenerational poverty, as single-parent households often have to make significant sacrifices when raising their children because of economic responsibilities. It was found that 54.0% of prisoner mothers during their childhood held low paid, dangerous or unstable jobs while the majority of the others worked in the informal sector such as sales, farming and fishing. Given the long hours involved in these jobs, it is suggested that low levels of social control at home contribute to the distorted behaviors and attitudes of childhood, ultimately leading to criminal actions in adulthood.
With the need for a stable income, many young people are forced into child labor, continuing the cycle of securing low-paid, dangerous or unstable jobs. Almost 50% of prisoners said they were fifteen or less the first time they worked for pay. In the study, findings suggested that “low wages and uncertain working conditions” were the main background for many prisoners when they committed the crime for which they were arrested. Their economic circumstances, coupled with a lack of relevant resources, saw a serious limitation in the opportunities they were given.
As with most unwanted negative experiences in childhood, some patterns such as unstructured and poor homes are constantly being replicated. Social attitudes, behaviors and systemic barriers all work together against jointly promoting disadvantaged homes and communities.
This op-ed was produced at the request of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and are not influenced by the IDB, nor do they represent those persons, organizations or organizations to which the author may be professionally or personally associated with them unless specifically stated.