Invest in people, not prisons, says youth advocacy group

Three strikes rule ‘does not work’ – Youth ACT

Authorities should invest in youth activities and intervention programs rather than pushing for longer sentences for criminals, a youth advocacy group has suggested. 

Two private members motions calling for tougher punitive action on crime sailed through the Legislative Assembly this month. 

But representatives from the Youth Anti Crime Trust, says harsher prison sentences simply don’t work. 

Bonnie Anglin, chair of Youth ACT, said evidence from other countries showed the ineffectiveness of policies like the “three strikes and you’re out” rule.  

Legislators gave support to a Cayman version of the three-strikes rule, mandating a minimum 10-year-sentence for anyone convicted of a robbery or burglary offense for a third time, as well as calling for break-ins in which victims are disturbed in their own homes to be reclassified as “aggravated burglary” – an offense which carries a tougher penalty. Both moves stemmed from private members motions, which are advisory in nature, meaning government would have to follow up with binding legislation.  

“We understand that politicians need to address national issues, and we also understand that on the surface this law might appear to be a “quick fix” or our next “knee jerk reaction” to one of our issues, but we are guided by the experiences of other countries and by research and empirical data, which have proven that this policy has failed every country that has implemented it,” Ms. Anglin wrote in a letter to legislators. 

Mike Myles, government’s at-risk youth officer and the president of the Cayman Islands Skateboard Association, believes money invested in keeping people in jail for long periods could be better spent in the community. 

“If we can afford $60,000 to lock them up, why can’t we afford $25,000 for lighting to keep the skate park open at night, for example?” he asked. 

Mr. Myles, who is also on the board of Youth ACT, said providing young people with constructive activities in the evening, particularly on weekends, would have a more powerful long-term effect on crime than tougher prison sentences. 

Youth ACT is advocating for more targeted spending on crime prevention and youth engagement. Ms. Anglin said several studies had been done on crime in Cayman, none of which recommended more punitive sentencing as a solution. 

“In the Cayman Islands, we have families without water and electricity, children going to school hungry, a serious increase in child sexual abuse, high unemployment and unemployability, a school that needs to be completed, roads becoming congested again.  

“We cannot afford to spend more money on the police and prison services, unless its purpose is on effective programs and positive community development between police, prison and the community.” 

Mr. Myles said the skate park is just one example of how money could be spent to engage young people in positive activities at limited cost. 

He said the park attracts around 400 youngsters a month. Since it was taken over by the nonprofit Skateboard Association, work has been done to rebuild the fencing, and glossy photographs of the young skaters have been put up around the perimeter. 

Jon Mikol Rankin, a skater who now works at the park and runs a youth group for children on Friday nights, said the young people who use the park on a regular basis feel a sense of ownership of the park. 

He said many of the children in his youth group would otherwise be out on the streets in an evening. 

Mr. Myles added, “What we are looking for now is more funding to get lighting and have the park open more often. It could be utilized a lot more, particularly on weekends. 

“A lot of the break-ins done by young people happen on weekend evenings when the most vulnerable young people have nothing to do and no one is watching out for them. 

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