Why is Jamaica’s murder rate – which at 44 per 100,000 was last year the world’s second highest after Colombia’s – so high? Well garrison politics obviously play a part. As do drugs. And deportees. And guns. And illiteracy. And an inability to resolve conflicts peacefully. But these are all symptoms and not root causes.


Why are inner city youth so ready to kill for their party? Why are they so easily attracted to the drug trade? Why are young Jamaican men being jailed abroad in such numbers? Why do they feel so empowered by guns? Why are they falling so far academically behind their sisters? Why do they have such poor emotional self-control? If poverty is the main cause of crime, why was Jamaica much poorer and yet more peaceful 40 years ago? And why are there many far less wealthy and far less murderous places on earth?


There are no doubt many contributing factors in all of this. But in my opinion the main one is fatherlessness. Our situation really is as simple as two plus two equals four - Jamaica has one of world’s highest murder rates because it has one of the world’s highest out of wedlock birthrates. For while the vast majority of both single and two parent children grow up to be law-abiding, every study shows that there is a much greater deviant minority among boys raised apart from their biological father.


Take the ‘Jamaican sniper youth’ John Lee Malvo. It was pathetic to hear his biological begetter claim he was ‘a good father’ despite not having seen the boy for 5 years – though admittedly by Jamaican standards he was better than many since his son actually knew the source of the sperm that impregnated his mother. But it’s clear that Malvo’s unnatural attachment to John Mohamed was rooted in a youngster’s desperate desire for a father figure. Malvo was so anxious to please probably the first man who ever showed him consistent paternal like attention that he was even willing to shoot human beings in cold blood.


Until Jamaican women change their mating habits – for it’s females who decide who they have children for – there will always be an excessive number of Jamaican young men prone to violence. Any nation where 85% of babies are born out of wedlock and over 50% have no registered fathers is bound to have a serious crime problem.


Of course we need to address the problem of fatherlessness itself. But social re-engineering is a multi-generational matter. And until two parent families become the norm and not the exception in this country – which means not in our lifetime – we probably have no choice but to follow America’s example. Meaning that if we want to cut our murder rate we will have to lock up more criminals for longer periods.


In about 1980 the US began passing tougher legislation including plea bargaining, mandatory sentencing, and ‘three strike’ laws. As a result its incarceration rate soared, and is now highest in the world. But its homicide rate plummeted.


In 1981 the US locked up about 50% more people per capita than Jamaica, and our murder rate was roughly twice as great as theirs. In 2001 they locked up nearly 5 times as many people per capita as we did, and our murder rate was over 7 times theirs. (Sources – US Bureau of Justice, Statin)


Prison, Jail




per 100,000

per 100,000






US 1981




JA 1981












US 2001




JA 2001












So 20 years ago America put 24 people behind bars for every person murdered, while the Jamaican ratio was 7 to 1. Last year the US locked up 111 people for every homicide committed, while our proportion was 3 to 1.


Jamaica's choice then is simple – we either adopt a ‘tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime’ approach or continue to suffer one of the world’s highest murder rates for at least another generation.


My liberal half recoils at the thought of possibly innocent people being imprisoned. But my bottom line self thinks of innocent children gunned down and wonders if we have any alternative. Some say we can’t afford to build more jails. But given the overwhelmingly negative impact of crime on our economy, can we afford not to? We’re certainly not going to see real economic growth until we get crime under control. And while it takes time to build prisons, why not can get prison boats specifically for murderers, rapists, and armed robbers right now?


But getting tough also means getting more efficient. The intimidation of potential witnesses is our judicial system’s greatest weakness. So let’s put one way mirrors in every police station so that witnesses cannot be seen during identification parades. And let us abolish preliminary trials, which not only put fear in the hearts of potential testifiers but make court cases excessively costly and time consuming. We also need to give every judge a computer, computerize our finger print and ballistic data bases, and create a deportee monitoring system. And we must have international standard crime scene investigation units.


All the above would cost less than what was squandered on Netserv. And the billions wasted in the Operation Pride scandal could have funded any needed penitentiary expansion program. It is not ideas or resources we lack but political will, and that must ultimately come from the Jamaican people. Crime will only be controlled when those in charge know that if they do not take the necessary measures they will be voted out. changkob@hotmail.com

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