Feb. 3, 2006 – Young adults between the ages of 17 and 22 are the territory's largest and most active criminal element, law enforcement officials said Friday at a Criminal Justice Forum held at the Earle B. Ottley Hall at the Legislature on St. Thomas.
A breakdown of this demographic by Patricia Rhymer-Todman, a guest speaker at the forum and a professor of psychology at the University of the Virgin Islands, also revealed that a majority of these individuals are young males who are unemployed, under-educated, and are generally products of low income, single-family homes.
Human Services Commissioner Sedonie Halbert said mental illness also plays a major role in juvenile crime. Halbert explained that a majority of the juveniles remanded to the Youth Rehabilitation Center on St. Croix suffer from various mental diseases, but are unable to receive adequate counseling at the facility.
"However, while we may be unable to deal with some of these cases, the Youth Rehabilitation Center is presently the only institution in the territory for juveniles, so they really have nowhere else to go," Halbert said.
To combat these problems, officials said that more youth education and intervention programs are needed to target at-risk youth and their families before crimes are committed. Some panelists at the forum also advocated for the creation of "boot camps" in the territory, where juvenile offenders would go to learn about self-discipline, self-accountability, and self-reliance.
Shaun Dalton, a guest speaker on youth reform and rehabilitation, said he and business partner Patrick Cuffy are currently working on building a boot camp on St. Croix geared toward reducing the number of juveniles who are repeat criminal offenders. "What we envision is a 50-acre compound with four barrack style buildings," Dalton said. "On the premises we will have a regular school, a vocational school, an agricultural area, a gym, an auditorium, and counseling rooms for youths and their families."
Dalton said the camp would execute "compassionate discipline," and would primarily focus on youth rehabilitation.
Having corporal punishment in schools was also discussed at Friday's forum after law enforcement officials from the Bahamas, St. Kitts and Nevis, and the British Virgin Islands said headmasters and principals in their jurisdictions were allowed to administer corporal punishment to students.
However, these representatives also discussed various successful methods introduced over the past few years to rehabilitate juvenile offenders. Robert Jeffers, police commissioner for St. Kitts and Nevis, said his police force conducted many town meetings with many of the region's "troubled youths." At the meetings, Jeffers said, these juveniles revealed they had turned to crime to escape other problems such as violence in the home.
To combat the levels of juvenile crime on St. Kitts and Nevis, Jeffers said there is a regular police presence in the schools. He also said he has been in contact with members of the business community in the region to organize internships and other programs for youth after school.
"The real problem in St. Kitts and Nevis is that once a student seems to be less academically inclined, they are automatically deemed to be a failure in the school system," Jeffers said. "This causes low self-respect, which ultimately leads the youth to crime."
Jeffers further explained that a juvenile could be tried as an adult on St. Kitts and Nevis after the age of 8, and – due to the overcrowding of prison facilities in the region – can be sentenced to time in prison with older, more experienced criminals.
"So when these kids come out of jail, they have learned what they could do from the other criminals," he said.
Sen. Pedro Encarnacion said that juvenile crime – particularly 17 to 22-year-olds – could also be directly linked to economic development in the territory. He said since 80 percent of at-risk youth in the territory make less than $10,000 annually, more job opportunities should be created in territory.
"The time to fight crime is before it starts," added Sen. Ronald E. Russell.
Other speakers at the forum included Reynell Frazer, Police commissioner for the British Virgin Islands; Shannondor Evans, superintendent of the Royal Bahamas Police Force; Judge Ive A. Swan; Elton Lewis, Police commissioner for the V.I.; and Joseph Ponteen, director of the Bureau of Corrections for the V.I.
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