After the bell rings
First published June 23, 2008
Crime has many faces and is committed by men, women and children of every class, race and ethnicity. When we say that we want to “tackle crime”, however, we don’t mean the culture of lying, bribery, white collar t’iefin’ and political kleptomania, but instead we mean “violent crime”. I propose that we must go beyond recruiting more policemen, purchasing more police cars and bulletproof vests, and even beyond the imagined happy day when we start hangin’ ‘em high. Yes, violent crimes are brazenly being committed right before our eyes, and it is infuriating, but the solution to all criminal activity begins even closer to home with our children.
We are not the only ones fighting this battle. Here in the Caribbean, in Europe and certainly in North America, strategies are being offered on how to deal with troubled youth. From parenting classes to early childhood intervention, the options are out there, and in combination, I believe they can make a great difference.
On this occasion, however, I want to zero in on just one possible piece to the puzzle and that is after-school programs.
The proactive approach is to develop a long-term strategy of crime prevention which involves more than increased surveillance in commercial districts and hot spot neighborhoods. It involves investing in those who are inordinately represented among the prison population: young people from vulnerable homes and crime-ridden neighborhoods. In short, we must, as a nation, commit as never before to after-school programs for young people. This isn’t a novel idea. This is something that has been recommended in various formats, settings and documents around the world. In 1990, the United Nations passed a resolution called the Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency or the Riyadh Guidelines. A key point of that document reads: “The prevention of juvenile delinquency is an essential part of crime prevention in society. By engaging in lawful, socially useful activities and adopting a humanistic orientation towards society and outlook on life, young persons can develop non-criminogenic attitudes.”
Effective programs don’t just make sure someone is keeping an eye on “dese rude chirren”. They engage them wholesomely, build their self-esteem, ground their self-confidence in positive rather than negative things, give them opportunities for training and careers, address their educational deficiencies, attempt to correct their behavioral problems and most of all, make them feel loved, wanted, valued and respected.
According to the American organization, www.fightcrime.org, “the hours from 2 to 6 p.m. on school days are the ‘prime time for juvenile crime’. [In America]…On a regular basis, 14 million children and teens are left unsupervised by adults after the school day ends. Studies show that after school is the peak time for teens to commit crime, be a victim of crime, be in or cause a car crash and smoke, drink or use drugs. Quality, constructive and highly supervised programs can cut
crime immediately and convert afterschool hours into safe learning time. One high-quality program found that boys left out of the program averaged six times more crimes than teens in the program. A study of Boys & Girls Clubs showed that housing projects without the clubs had 50 percent more vandalism and 37 percent worse drug activity than projects with the clubs.”
Many teachers are engaged in clubs and coaching in our schools, but let’s face it, this is not enough. It isn’t reaching the students most in need of constructive afterschool activities. The average boy or girl who joins a club out of sheer personal interest is not the kid we are aiming for. One of the reasons for this may be that the typical groups (Anchor Club, Junior Achievers, Gentlemen’s Club, etc.) are designed for the overachiever, not the underachiever. Carl Bethel, in his recent budget report, conceded that even his ministry’s 10-week pilot afterschool program did not reach the targeted at-risk groups, despite having approximately 1200 participants. Sporting groups do better at attracting atypical students, however discipline problems usually make it difficult for some of these very same kids to stay on the team, and hence they are once again left idle and unattended to. Furthermore, our schools are already working with extremely limited resources. So to whom should we look? Why not draw upon our churches, businesses, the government, and even private citizens?
We know that in the 2007-2008 budget, members of Parliament were to each be given $100,000 for constituency allowances, once their plans were approved by the minister of finance. Currently only a little more than half of the MPs actually accessed their funds. Already, some are boasting of the forthcoming paving of roads and repairing of parks, but given the state of affairs in the nation, why do the same old thing and expect different results? That’s been referred to as insanity. So what if we don’t pave a single road this year? Shouldn’t every constituency have a community center by now? Shouldn’t those centers have staff trained to work with at-risk youth through programs in arts, academics, vocational studies, core skills, etc.? The National Task Force on Youth Development advocated this over a decade ago. Shouldn’t every MP, not just the odd few, be in partnerships with constituents, churches and businesses to help with this massive task?
Changes are needed
There is no easy way out on this topic. Kids can be tough work, especially those who are surviving in dysfunctional homes, struggling with disabilities or disorders that have gone undiagnosed, or battling with issues of morals, class and values generated by popular culture. However, we should liken them to an investment, similar to other investments that we devote our money and time to. We need to properly train, educate, support, encourage and yes, finance those who are willing and able to work overtime with our children. No one bats an eye when we toss approximately $12 million into tourism for advertising alone. That’s an investment we believe will pay off.
Perhaps we’re too short-sighted. Perhaps all we see are “kids”; loud, abrasive, disrespectful and painfully inconvenient problems plaguing our society. Children are always someone else’s problem. The catch is, unlike any other investment we’ll make, you can’t just throw money at them and expect everything to come up roses. They require so much more than parks, playgrounds, or even food and clothes. Folks, we are looking at young men and women without a discernible future. Young men and women, who, being ill-equipped to inherit will nonetheless wrest this country from our bare hands. Whether they can steer, build, manage and preserve it will be a testimony about us, not them.
• Ian Strachan is Associate Professor of English at The College of The Bahamas. You can write him at [email protected]