Turkeyen and Tain talks 8 - 'Youth, Crime and Violence'
The Juvenile Justice Bill will be presented to Parliament by month end, Minister of Public Security Khemraj Ramjattan said on Wednesday, while speaking on issues related to ‘Youth, Crime and Violence’ at the University of Guyana’s eighth Turkeyen and Tain talks.
Ramjattan was on a panel that included Pastor Eworth Williams, activist Derwayne Wills, and Child Protection specialist Patricia Gittens. Assistant Commissioner of Police Clifton Hicken, though slated to speak, was not present at the event.
The discussions, which invited comments and questions from the audience, touched on youth policy, constitutional reform, and the justice system, including how culture can influence youth to become involved in crime, and affect them once they become part of the system.
“In a study I did just recently, I looked at the relationship between parenting styles and juvenile delinquency. And what it showed is that our parenting styles in Guyana [are] literally… creating some of the issues we have with our youth,” Debbie Hopkinson, a member of the university’s sociology department commented. “Our youths are becoming violent because sometimes they’re abused, and sometimes they become a victim twice—first, by being abused, then when they wander away, the system also makes them a victim again. And that is something we need to look at…,” she added.
In response to a query from Hopkinson on the status of the Juvenile Justice Bill, Ramjattan stated that the bill is complete and will be taken to Parliament by the end of this month, when costing has been completed. The bill will then be debated in October.
Once passed, he said, it will do away with several archaic laws that are responsible for the incarceration of many of the country’s youth.
“In that bill, all the difficulties we have, I have made sure that the consultation process went through successfully — truancy, wandering, all those economic crimes are going to be abolished. All of them, and they are not going to be made crimes anymore because the days for that are long gone…,” Ramjattan said.
He further stated that policing authorities would have “far more stringent methods” to follow when it comes to the incarceration of youth and that provisions would be made at police stations to have rooms for juveniles.
After being called out by Dr Nigel Gravesande on what he said was a 0.7% budget allocation to youth, Ramjattan assured those gathered that this figured would be upped once monies became available.
“If we have to take our monies and do what is regarded as priority by all Cabinet, we have to do that. It does not necessarily mean that importance is not attached to others. And youth, especially, we feel we have to spend more money on and that is why of recent times—and this might sound again clichéd—we are making sure now that the bailouts that we will have for sugar will have to come to a halt,” Ramjattan said.
“… At the present moment, because of the fact that we do not have resources… sugar is not doing well, bauxite is not doing well, only gold it would appear is doing that well and until such time as we have a better day with an oil revenue stream, we have to start making some serious decisions, and we have started making those already,” he added.
Ramjattan noted that the government in its mandate of youth development has been guided by a number of published reports, including the United Nations Report on Violence against Children; Crime, Violence and Development; the Citizens Security Survey; and the Paramaribo Declaration on the Future of Youth in the Caribbean Community.
Acknowledging that a lot of reports are usually churned out but shelved, the minister stated that there is a need to begin utilising the recommendations in order to “immediately walk the talk”.
He stated that among those recommendations is the need to provide skills training in at-risk areas, while referencing the Guyana Police Force’s programme that sees divisional commanders setting up youth groups within such communities.
He also made reference to the IDB’s Citizen Security Strengthening Programme, one of the components of which is to train 25 students from across 20 communities in areas such as carpentry, masonry and electrical engineering, and providing them with a US$70 allowance so they are able to attend the nearest skills centre.
“I know that it is going to be a difficult task solving this thing because it is somehow …young people feel that they could do the wrong things because the wrong things are being done by everybody, high and low. And when a culture starts that bad habit of young people thinking that that can be done it is going to be very, very dangerous,” the minister said.
Wills had shared similar sentiments in his presentation.
“We must be mindful of the images our youth are fed – particularly our men. Everywhere I look, I see the lucrative spoils of celebrated local kingpins who walk amongst us. We must also be mindful of how these images shape the value systems of our youth, particularly men, in their pursuit for success,” Wills had stated. Ramjattan had also made reference to how parenting and the socialisation process affect how youth relate to crime.
Shedding light on the inefficiencies in the justice system, Wills spoke of what he called “indifference” on the part of magistrates as it pertains to the sums assigned for the granting of bail to persons who hail from impoverished communities, and criticised the outdated legislation that results in scores of persons being incarcerated for offences such as narcotics possession. It was on this note that he referred to the recent events as a correction of the system.
“I was prepared to stand here and champion many causes for reforms – in the prison system, in the modus operandi of the police, in the judiciary… but the prisoners of Camp Street have accomplished in a matter of days what activists have championed for years,” Wills stated.
“…These are continued acts of defiance against the system and its agents for unnecessarily long trials, inefficiencies in the police prosecution system, exorbitant bail amounts… just naming a few… Justice delayed is justice denied. And the Camp Street prison fire remains a radical act of defiance which has forced the system to correct itself,” the youth activist further said.
"Too much procrastination" - Ramjattan
CITING procrastination regarding various reports, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan has called for more action on recommendations relevant to youth, violence and crime. At the same time, a call has been made for the authorities to place emphasis on youth involvement in the decision-making process of the country’s policies regarding the nation’s youth.
Speaking to a packed room at the Pegasus Hotel on Wednesday night during the University of Guyana‘s (UG) Turkeyen & Tain Talks, Ramjattan noted that there have been a number of reports which form part of the government’s strategy which centres on youth, crime and violence. These include the United Nations Report on Violence Against Children in the Caribbean as well as the 2010 UNDP Citizens Security Survey, among others. Noting that they are all major reports, he said such reports would remain on the shelves over the years.
“We have to start utilising recommendations of these reports to immediately walk the talk,” he said, noting that if such is not undertaken, the results can be detrimental.
Ramjattan told the gathering that from such reports, there is a correlation cited between young people and drugs or alcohol, noting that if someone is going to be a standout from the youth ages, that person can be affected by factors such as unemployment or poverty. Touching on the recent Georgetown Prison unrest, he informed the gathering that information from the prison hierarchy indicated that out of every five prisoners, only one can read.
He said this is relative to the entire prison population across the country’s prisons. “It’s very serious,” he said, noting that the government has a number of findings and recommendations which will be effectuated. He said the issue of skills training is being addressed, noting that in each police division across the country, the commander of the division has been tasked with developing social programmes which integrate children into progressive projects “especially those who may have come from dysfunctional families”. The minister noted that such programmes have proved to be effective since they have impacted positively in communities which in the past had high crime rates. He said having received the recommendations, the priority ones are addressed and funding is sought for such programmes.
WORKING WITH GANG MEMBERS
Pastor Eworth Williams of the Heavenly Light Church in Cooper Street, Albouystown noted that the church has been working with gangs for a number of years. Speaking on the subject of youth and violence, he said the church is not only about the four walls, but rather an avenue which persons can turn to in difficult situations. He spoke also of the prison population and posited that all prisoners would have had experiences in the church, temple or masjid.
However, according to him, the reality is no one would have noticed such persons and this would have led to such persons choosing a life of crime. “So what has happened is that they would have turned to things that would make them noticed,” Williams said. He informed the gathering that in Albouystown, there are approximately 48 main gangs, of which 26 are said to be notorious. The church, he said, has a good relationship with the gangs, noting that from time to time, he would meet and have discourse with the gang members, “because we believe that if we don’t touch them, then someone else will”. He also said it has not been an easy task, noting that at times the church officials would wonder if the persons engaged would really change their lives. He noted, however, that there are examples of those who have worked to change their lives. “We have a part to play, especially as a church,” Williams said. Youth advocate Derwayne Wills, who spoke at the event, called for more youth involvement in the decision- making process. He said there are many questions which demand answers. He said when the government changed in 2015, many anticipated the setting up of a Ministry of Youth. Wills suggested that this should be reviewed by the authorities. He noted that there is a national youth policy while legislation relative to youth is being addressed. However, he called for accountability of various constitutional bodies which have oversight over the nation’s youth. “What we need is action, to fix the system’s short-comings,” Wills said as he called on the authorities to meet the youth half way.
University of Guyana Health Sciences student, Patricia Gittens, spoke on the issue of mental health. She said there is need for the authorities to place prevention of crime and violence on the front burner. Gittens said the good news is that there is hope in that direction. The forum, which was moderated by Professor Ivelaw Griffith, Vice-Chancellor of the university, attracted a large turn-out. It concluded with a discussion between the panel of presenters and the audience.
Article adapted from: https://guyanachronicle.com/2017/07/13/too-much-procrastination
- The University of Guyana