Copycat, cookie-cutter approach to criminal behaviour

Dear Editor,
I am speaking particularly to the incidences of crime; having both an objective and subjective understanding of how criminals think. What is happening in Guyana is a copycat, cookie cutter approach to criminal behaviour. Old criminals are teaching the young criminals the tricks of the trade. “John” sees that “Jim” is getting away with a deviant behaviour, so John does what Jim is doing. And Jim is getting away with murder (pun intended), and now John, because the Government is distracted.
The untenable situations over the last ten months can all be chalked up to administrative infancy. However, these crises have the government on their back foot, playing defence. The opposition is unrelenting in their attacks. This is making the citizens feel as if the Government is absent. The backlash is that the criminals smell blood in the water. For them, ‘the cat’s away, so the mice will play.’ It is now a criminalistic free for all.
In the ‘90s when I served as a Chaplain at the Westville Correctional Facility (Indiana’s largest prison), I interacted with some of the most violent of Indiana’s and Michigan’s criminals. What I leaned during those years is that even the most violent criminals have their soft spots. When a criminal is incarcerated and the correct kinds of rehabilitative programmes are provided and the environment is created, the desired change begins to take place.
A trained person can get the inmate to open up and when he does, he speaks apologetically and remorsefully of his deviant past behaviours. I had hundreds of personal rapports with inmates and during my sessions with them, I got a clear understanding of what drives criminal behaviours.
Criminals are not born. Criminals are made. Circumstances make people criminals. A criminal is more likely to come from a broken home, have low academic and vocational skills, have an addiction to drugs or have friends with those traits. A perfect storm is created when those in authority seem not to have a handle on the situation. When you speak to any offender he will tell you that he did what he did, or he does what he is doing because the environment existed or exists for him to do it.
The breakdown begins first in the home when there is a lack of the correct governance of the child. This is mostly true of single-parent homes, where the mother is the parent. The deviancy then spreads to the community where there is a lack of role models; especially males. In Guyana the religious community has become ‘Maslow-ian’ in their outlook, with their number 1 hierarchical need is being their financial status.
Religion as a whole has become introverted and selfish, and we religious people are failing this country miserably. If you don’t have money, some churches shun you. As a pastor who works with the outcast, I have many sad stories to tell, of persons who advocate one thing publically but renege on their promises in private. Editor, I would wish to deal more specifically with this in another letter.
There are far too many single-mothers – especially in the Afro-Guyanese community; hence the lack of proper parenting. In some societies the religions – especially Islam and Christianity – step up and play a pivotal role in curbing criminal behaviours in the community. However, there seem to be no such trend in Guyana.
Additionally, the successive governments seem to be overwhelmed by their own internal problems and unable to give sufficient attention to the crime problem.
The previous government was so distracted that they were unable to put any significant measures in place to curb the crime epidemic. They neglected to establish a post-release rehabilitation programme. The PPP/C had a golden opportunity to establish Guyana’s first ex-offender rehabilitation programme but they refused.
Additionally, they had a very poorly administered pre-release rehabilitation programme. Inmates complained that the programmes conducted in the prisons were riddled with favouritism and corruption. This led to the prison becoming a revolving door.
Over the last few years I observed the crime situation in Guyana grew precipitously worse because the environment existed for it to thrive. Guyana has one of the highest rates of recidivism in the Caribbean; with 7 or 8 out of every 10 released prisoner returning to prison. We also have a very young prison population; with 75 per cent of our inmates between the ages of 18-35.
That is why Guyana needs a stop-gap programme to intercept the guys when they come out of prison. The justification for a rehabilitation centre is to counter what is now pervasive in our society. As it stands, the older criminals are recruiting and training the younger ones, then loaning them their guns to commit these heinous crimes. An ex-offender rehabilitation will have the reverse effect. The programme will serve to have those rehabilitated former inmates mentor the troubled youths. Also, the government will have a team of former criminals at their disposal to serve as point men and a think-thank for their crime fighting.
Crime has continued to flourish even with this government because, as with the past administration, they are embroiled in many distractions. They too are unable to focus sufficiently on the crime situation.
The double whammy of the criminal upsurge and the prison riots seem to have knocked the Public Security Ministry off their stride. Both situations were festering for a long time under the past government but now they have landed at the doorsteps of this administration.
What this government has going for it is their newness, coupled with the credibility of President Granger. Because of this, folks are willing to give them time and to be lenient with them. However, this will not last forever. They should use this honeymoon period to regroup, flush themselves of the current distracting issues and double down on moving the country forward.
Editor, to every one person I know coming for the Jubilee celebrations, I know two who are afraid to return because of the crime situation. Guyana has great developmental potential among our Caribbean counterparts, by way of our minerals and people. However, if the government – any government – does not get a handle of the crime epidemic, our greatness will remain only a potential.

Wendell Jeffrey