Nearly a dozen reports on crime and the causes of crime have been produced for the Cayman Islands government since 2001, but very few of the recommendations have been followed, according to youth worker Michael Myles.
Amid a crime wave that has seen four robberies, a home invasion and multiple drug arrests in the past week, Mr. Myles, the former at-risk youth officer for the Cayman Islands, warns that the territory is facing a multi-generational problem that successive governments have failed to deal with.
He says tougher sentencing, more police and bigger prisons will be ineffective, unless something is done to deal with the root causes of crime, including poor parenting, poor education standards, teen pregnancy, and the generational issue of “children following parents to prison.”
Mr. Myles said multiple reports had consistently identified the same solutions, ranging from early intervention programs for children involved in petty crime to transitional housing for offenders released from prison.
Unless Cayman follows some of the reports’ recommendations, he said, the island will continue to face serious crime problems.
“Nobody should be asking for another report or forming another committee,” he said. “We have had enough of that. We need to start doing some real work and putting into place some of these programs that all these experts have recommended.”
In his government role, Mr. Myles compiled a list of 600 children in the school system who had behavioral issues and were considered at risk of getting involved in crime.
“I could take you to any school in the Cayman Islands and show you dozens of kids who, if nothing is done, will be the next generation of criminals, the next gang members and armed robbers,” he said.
Currently, he said, government and the private sector organizations lack the tools to change that trajectory.
The answers, said Mr. Myles, are no mystery. They are there in black and white in 11 reports commissioned since 2001.
He highlighted three reports, in particular – “Inquiry into the Causes of Social Breakdown and Violence Among Youth in the Cayman Islands (2001),” “Pre-disposing Factors of Criminality in the Cayman Islands (2006)” and the “IPAC Report: Review of the Assessment and Treatment of Criminal Offenders in the Cayman Islands” – as providing a clear blueprint to address the root causes of crime.
The key recommendations from those reports were consolidated by Mr. Myles in a 2015 memo, compiled at the behest of the National Security Council, following two murders early that year.
Programs earmarked for implementation include a youth diversion and early intervention program for young people involved in petty crime, a community parenting program and a national youth database for sharing information on all at-risk youth with police, social services and education leaders.
Other needs include transitional housing for youth coming out of care, improved mental health services in schools and in the community and halfway houses for adult prisoners leaving Northward Prison.
Mr. Myles left government earlier this year to take up a role with Hope Academy and to dedicate more time to the Youth Anti-Crime Trust, a nonprofit, which, with the assistance of private sector sponsors, is beginning to implement some of the programs recommended in the crime reports.
Youth ACT, through its sponsors, is underwriting the cost of introducing the SNAP program, developed by Canada’s Child Development Institute, which seeks to identify children with behavioral issues and help them develop self-control and conflict management skills.
That is just one program amid dozens of recommendations to come out of the reports.
“We have paid for report after report that have told us how to successfully reduce crime and steer young people away from it,” said Mr. Myles. “They all tell us that we can’t police our way out of this problem. Only when we improve poor parenting, poor education, employment, training, teenage pregnancy, poverty, we will see less drug abuse and less gun crime.”
Mr. Myles worked at the Marine Institute, the predecessor to the Bonaventure Boy’s Home, before joining government. He still keeps track of the boys who came through the home in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Whenever there is a gang shooting, he usually recognizes the name – whether it is the victim or the shooter.
“So many of them are either dead or in jail,” he said.
Each one has an almost equally tragic back story – a drug addicted mother, a father in prison, an abusive parent.
The cycle continues.
“It is their children I am dealing with now,” says Mr. Myles. “There is only so much we can do for the people who are already out there robbing gas stations and shooting up houses. There is a lot we can do for the next generation to prevent them going down the same path. We have been given a road map, we need someone to get on with it.”
Six recommendations from the reports
National Youth Database – An integrated database system to collect and store information on at-risk children and their families to be used by all agencies which provide them with services.
Youth Diversion Programs – A 12-week diversion program was proposed for youth arrested for relatively minor offenses. The program would involve drug and alcohol education, anger management, family intervention and academic support focusing on math and English.
Community Parenting Program – Fund the Family Resource Centre to develop a national parenting program and deliver services at times convenient to parents and children.
Children with Incarcerated Parents program – Fund Youth ACT to “address re-offending behavior and the generational issue of following parents to prison.”
National Youth Commission – Use the commission to develop a licensing policy for youth, sports and community organizations and fund the expansion of effective programs, while discontinuing those that are ineffective.
Stop Now and Plan – The “SNAP” intervention program for children with behavioral issues at school provides anger and conflict management skills for children and also seeks to train parents. It is being introduced this year through a partnership between government and nonprofit Youth ACT, which is funding the implementation and training, through sponsorship by Sol Petroleum and Rotary Sunrise.