(CNS): Former government social worker Michael Myles, who is a vociferous advocate for a more proactive approach to tackling the causes of crime at an earlier stage, is calling on the current administration to intervene with vulnerable children and young people before they go off the rails. In the face of rising crime, he is warning that the Cayman Islands must have a more proactive approach to reducing crime rather than addressing it after the fact. “We start to address crime when a child has actually committed a crime. It’s too late then and that’s our biggest issue. There are warning signs,” he told CNS.
“I never went to [court] and saw a kid I didn’t work with ten years ago or five years ago,” he said, noting a recent case where a young person is suspected of committing a robbery. “Did I see that coming? At eight I saw it coming for him — at eight! He is just one of hundreds that I have dealt with,” said Myles, who for years has been raising concerns about the government’s failure to address criminality at a much earlier stage.
Over the last two months Grand Cayman has seen a spike in crime, but Myles warns that the root cause of crime needs to be tackled and hasn’t been for the last two decades.
During his time as a social worker, he identified behavioural issues, such as anger, in children from both the private and public education systems. He said intervention in these cases is needed before the children grow up and become susceptible to crime. He warned that the emotional challenges young people face stems from trauma, such as sexual and physical abuse and parental neglect.
“We have a major mental health issue on our hands. The majority of children that are getting involved with criminal behaviour today are smoking ganja and have either significant learning deficiencies or mental health issues. Are we going to address that? No,” Myles added.
The relevant multitude of government departments need to work together and develop a plan, he urged. Various agencies deal with different sections of the root causes of crime but Myles said they need to communicate with each other and pool resources.
The police are “not into prevention”, he said. “They’re not going to stop anything from happening. We have to address it from a wider perspective rather than each individual department trying to do a thing. There is nothing strategic about what we are doing right now — nothing.”
According to the latest statistics issued in December 2017, youth criminal cases have increased from 49 in 2016 to 90 in 2017. Meanwhile, HMP Northward is full and the government is now housing serving prisoners at the Immigration Detention Centre, which Myles said was a step in the wrong direction.
“I don’t see us addressing crime in this country. What I see us doing is building a bigger prison, or another prison. We’re definitely going to need another prison,” he warned.
Law enforcement sees firsthand the impact of juvenile crime. Jacqueline Carpenter, a spokesperson for the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, said young people were committing very serious crimes, and in some cases, at a really young age.
“There is an obvious need to devote some attention and resources to addressing youth crime prevention,” she said, noting that this was one of the RCIPS’ strategic goals.
Carpenter said that following the launch of the community policing plan in February, officers are integrating into communities across the islands and some have started to work with young people in their areas. As an example, she noted that Bodden Town beat officers have started to work with the district’s children’s home to intervene with the runaways.
Even before the community policing initiative, officers were going into the schools for Youth Crime Prevention days. The RCIPS now also holds events at the Black Pearl Skate Park, where officers can be found engaging with children and teenagers to present an alternative view of law enforcement.
Noting that community development is an area of growth for the RCIPS, Carpenter said that instead of just becoming involved at the end of a process, “there needs to be more prevention early on in the process. When people are younger, they are more impressionable.”
There is some help at hand. Last September the Family Resource Centre began offering an intervention programme for families with children aged six to eleven who display bad behaviour, such as bullying.
Stop Now and Plan (SNAP) programme facilitator Miles Ruby said, “We need to catch these kids when they are young …because when they get older, it’s harder to change their behaviour and the price tag is bigger.”
She said the SNAP programme teaches children how to calm themselves when they experience emotions such as anger and sadness, while coaching parents how to intervene. “What we’ve found is that after the thirteen weeks the family relationship has improved; there is less arguing and more pro social behaviour.”