A couple dozen West Bay residents that met with Royal Cayman Islands Police officers Wednesday about an illegal firearms amnesty programme learned some surprising details regarding how many youngsters in the country are believed to be at-risk of criminal behaviour.
Ministry of Education officials said 150 primary school students in Cayman had been identified as being at potential risk of not making it through high school unless they received some intervention and care along the way.
Moreover, ministry Youth Services Programme Coordinator Michael Myles told the audience that $150,000 is being spent per year, per child housed at local juvenile correctional facilities. That’s nearly triple what the government spends each year to house an adult inmate at Her Majesty’s Prison Northward.
“To house one child at Bonaventure or Frances Bodden right now is costing you, the taxpayers, almost $150,000 a year,” Mr. Myles said. “Many of the inmates that are [in Northward], I dealt with many of them either at Bonaventure or at the Marine Institute. We’re now dealing with their children.
“Why are we going to wait 10 years to address a problem we know that’s there at 5 [years old]?”
Mr. Myles said the ministry has sought to identify at-risk youth prior to the start of the 2011/12 school year in both primary and secondary school classes. Seven different categories were used to identify school kids as “at risk”, he said.
Those include: poor performance, truancy or conflict at school; poor parenting issues or supervision at home; youth court or criminal issues; signs of mental health disorders; dishonesty; and even problems with sexuality.
Mr. Myles said the latter issue was one of the more surprising matters education officials have encountered.
“We have an increasing problem amongst young people in our school system with inappropriate sexual behaviour,” he said. “Out of the 150 primary school youngsters that have been identified, probably 10 per cent struggle with inappropriate sexual behaviour. A lot of this stems from them being exposed to pornographic stuff or to their parents having sexual intercourse, and they don’t how to process that … we’re talking about 5, 6, 7-year olds and they come to school and they imitate that behaviour.”
Troubled youth identified through the programme being implemented at public schools likely won’t require help with all of these types of problems, Mr. Myles said. The challenge is identifying what services they need and organising the agencies responsible for providing them.
“Not every child needs counselling, not every child needs police involvement, not every child needs a social worker,” he said. “Fifty percent of the kids, I would say, just need supervision.
“Many of the 150 [at-risk primary school kids] meet at least five of the categories,” Mr. Myles said. “Is that a bad thing? No, because now we know where we are and we know we need to treat them.”
During the meeting, RCIPS Superintendent Marlon Bodden recalled a fairly recent interview with a murder suspect who he said he confessed to the crime.
Mr. Bodden said he thought the young man had some dreams and potential, but had just fallen on the wrong side of the law because of the environment he grew up in.
“Everyone in this audience has a criminal mind; at any given time we can think something criminal, but we don’t act on it,” Superintendent Bodden said. “But not everyone in our society thinks that way.”
“A lot of individuals have called me and said ‘Mr. Bodden leave [the criminals] alone and let them kill themselves’,” he said. “Who are these individuals robbing? They’re going to individuals when they go home in the communities that we live in and wait until they arrive and then use the ambush approach. Do we really want that kind of lifestyle?”
Mr. Bodden said police had been successful in taking firearms off Cayman’s streets in recent years to some extent. A gun amnesty in 2010 ended with 26 weapons – including guns, bows and arrows, a grenade and a taser – being surrendered. Since that amnesty, Mr. Bodden said 30 firearms and about 2,300 rounds of ammunition had been turned in.
In addition, another 17 firearms had either been seized at Cayman’s port or in the US in packaging that was earmarked for Cayman. The weapons seizures occurred between 2009 and 2010.
“It sounds good that we’ve made these seizures, but a lot of crimes have been committed after that,” Mr. Bodden said.
The RCIPS amnesty lasts until the end of this month. People can turn in weapons at the George Town, Bodden Town, West Bay and Cayman Brac Police Stations.