EDITORIAL – Please, no more reports on the causes of crime

“One of the frustrating tics of our society’s progressive vanguard is the assumption that every evil it discovers was entirely invisible in the past …”
– Ross Douthat, New York Times columnist

Local legislator Alva Suckoo deserves recognition for identifying as a matter of urgency the declining social conditions in the Cayman Islands.

In response to Chief Justice Anthony Smellie’s warning at the 2019 Grand Court opening that judicial facilities are straining under current demand (a caution that has, over the past decade or so, become something of an annual tradition), Mr. Suckoo suggested that government commission a study on the root causes of crime in Cayman.

The good news, for Mr. Suckoo, is that many studies already exist. In fact, we suspect there are few subjects that have been studied so thoroughly, here in Cayman and elsewhere, as the origins and effects of criminal behavior. If Cayman’s government were to undertake a new study, there is no doubt the executive summary would draw correlations between crime and the following phenomena: poor parenting, lack of education, drug use, adverse childhood experiences, idleness, and generational cycles of criminality and abuse.

Locally, our government has studied the issue exhaustively, with voluminous reports ultimately spawning a report on the reports. The current “Bible” on the topic in Cayman is the 2015 summary of major recommendations from various studies on criminality compiled by former at-risk youth officer Michael Myles.

That document lays out a comprehensive array of well-established methods, strategies and interventions, such as youth diversions, community mentoring, information sharing among youth workers, transitional housing and services for mental health. The problem, we would argue, is certainly not a lack of study by government. If you doubt us, just enter a few keywords in the Google search engine.

Put another way, despite Mr. Suckoo’s best intentions, this government should not waste one more dime on one more study.

For the most part, individual crimes are committed by individuals who, in full awareness of the law, nevertheless make the decision to disregard or flout societal norms. To ignore or downplay the role of personal responsibility does a disservice to every law-abiding citizen who faces difficult experiences without resorting to crime. That is, the significant majority of our population.

Moreover, to attempt to assign blame to society at-large for an individual’s choices is worse than misguided. It is enabling.

Which brings us to the really bad news. The reality is that there is very little even the most well-intentioned (and well-funded) government can do preemptively to stop crime.

The tools allotted to the police, the courts and our prisons, unfortunately but realistically, are very crude tools indeed. They are fashioned to deal with malefactors AFTER they have misbehaved.

Holistically, patterns of criminal activity are expressions of societal and familial expectations – and tolerances.

Of course, reasonable public resources should be allocated to fund programs and services aimed at guiding the country’s youth along positive, socially acceptable paths. However, the government cannot possibly hope to extend its reach into the homes and minds of every current or potential lawbreaker. Such a notion is as fanciful in theory as it is impossible in fact.

The government’s top priority must be to act where it is most effective: preserving the public safety by holding people accountable when they break the law. That means arresting, prosecuting and, upon conviction, removing criminals expeditiously from the general population.

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