The United Workers Party (UWP) said it is concerned about the increased criminal activities, particularly youth crime.
Opposition Leader Dr. Gale Rigobert told St Lucia News Online (SNO) in an exclusive interview recently said that the time has come for all parties concerned to shift the focus to addressing the high crime rate, by pooling resources and looking at preventative measures.
Referring to her statement made in the House of Assembly, when the anti-gang legislation was being tabled, Dr. Rigobert said she pointed out that there is insufficient attention being paid to preventative measures towards addressing crime.
However, much of the resources are spent on punitive measures instead.
“When economic variables are stacked high against a family or a neighbourhood, what can government do to ensure that these children do not find themselves turning to crime out of necessity? I am not making excuses for criminals, I want to be very clear, but we must understand the impulses and push factors,” she explained.
The opposition leader noted that there are early signs of deviance displayed by children.
“You just don’t wake up one day as an adult and be a criminal, these things are habit forming,” she added.
She went on to question whether there are sufficient social workers and counselors in schools; whether teachers are adequately equipped to recognise the early signs of deviance, social disaffection and psychological disconnect.
“Do we have mechanisms and systems in place to recognise and intervene very early and ensure these manifestations do not mature into hardcore criminal behaviour? Many of the schools with 300 or more students sometimes have one counselor, this is an insane ratio.”
The politician did not cast blame on any specific individual or institution for the spike in criminal activities.
She said: “It is our problem… I would really like to see the social partners regain prominence in their collective socialisation of our young people. We all have an equal and vested interest in ensuring that we live in a safe society.”
She pointed out that much of the crime committed here is by young people, particularly males. “It begs the question why we have a high incidence of youth crime. There are several explanations because no one circumstance pushes a young person to commit crime.”
“Several of us have made the observation that the moral fabric of our society is weakening, that the social structures, the agencies of socialisation that traditionally appeared to have played a more active role in the upbringing of our young people. Those agencies are disappearing, are weakening or are not as involved as they were traditionally. There isn’t that active participation in the way we had seen 10, 15 or 20 years ago because there are so many competing interests that young people have.”
She argued that with other modes of socialisation, the inclination to participate in traditional forms of socialisation like prayer meetings or youth meetings in a church are not as strong as it would have been, when they were fewer distractions.
The opposition leader also opined that one of the disadvantages of the advent of modern information communication technologies is that young people do not take advantage of the traditional games in the playground, which she believes serves a very useful purpose.
“It is on that playground- playing contact sports, for example, you learn to share, mediation, conflict resolution and team-building. So many of our young people are so engaged with the artifact and tools of technology that there isn’t that engagement and so you find that a lot of our young people appear to very short fuse, because there isn’t that negotiation of space that is afforded through traditional sport,” she added.
Another reason for this issue, Dr. Rigobert opined, is that parents are increasingly otherwise engaged and the role of the extended families played in the past, continues to diminish.
“In the olden days, people lived in enclaves, but now you have a physical distance among family members so you don’t have that collective input in raising children. More young people are left on their own and are open to temptation.”
However, Dr. Rigobert also believes that there are also strong economic reasons why people turn to crime. “The high unemployment rate and very high youth unemployment rate lend to a lot of temptation where people turn to crime to get a living.
“Crime becomes a form of employment and crime becomes a vehicle through which they fend for themselves and their families. I want to be very clear, it is not a justification for it; it is one of the explanations why people turn to crime.”
She continued: “If one is to study the generational involvement in crime, not because they are necessarily inherently bad individuals per say, I want to be very clear, but the economic necessity and the unavailability of alternative legal, morally acceptable options of employment serves as a strong impulse to engage in criminal activities.”
Further, Dr. Rigobert said based on the economic crisis facing the country it is no surprise in terms of what is happening.
“As long as you are going to have increasing unemployment, decreasing wages, seasonal employment, a contracting economy, these all lend themselves to creating desperation, that if not properly checked and channeled and catered for, can push people into committing crime.”