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Contributing to, or preventing crime?

BOTH the last administration and this one have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on social programmes whose medium- and long-term objectives, ostensibly, were to halt crime at its root.

Under the Prime Ministership of Patrick Manning, an expanded Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and the new Community Environmental Protection and Enhancement Programme (CEPEP) were touted as measures which would persuade gang members to turn away from crime. Instead, as noted in 2008 by no less a personage than President-elect Anthony Carmona in his capacity as a High Court judge, the URP seemed to have provided additional incentives for criminality. In follow fashion, the Kamla Persad-Bissessar administration promised an expansion of CEPEP and, between 2011 and 2012, touted the $300 million Colour Me Orange programme as a crime-prevention initiative. That figure has now been reduced to an official $73 million in response to a question filed in Parliament by Opposition Senator Fitzgerald Hinds. Much has also been promised of another splashy programme, the ongoing Hoops of Life competition, expensively identified with American basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal.

The failure of these various social impact initiatives does not mean, however, that the logic behind them is not sound. Far from being mindless beasts, even the most savage criminals respond, like ordinary law-abiding people, to incentives. But the incentives provided by make-work programmes lead to heightened rivalry, not a cessation of criminal activity. This is partly because politicians do not institute such programmes with the primary goal of crime prevention; instead, their main aim is to get votes. The Colour Me Orange programme, for example, officially provided just over 3,500 people with a salary of less than $1,000 a month for a year-long period. URP and CEPEP, similarly, pay subsistence wages which are intended to create dependency and hence a reliable vote bank. Nor is there ever any assessment as to whether government-sponsored sports programmes like the Hoops of Life are succeeding in saving at-risk young people.

On that basis, other Parliamentarians should follow Mr Hinds' lead  and call the government to account for its various crime prevention plans.  This is not only a matter of taxpayers being assured that our money is being properly spent. It may also be that the net effect of vote-getting strategies masquerading as social assistance is to solidify and replicate the conditions which produce criminals. While they may not calculate the matter consciously, criminals would realise that, should crime cease, then politicians would stop funding such programmes since there would then be no need for the make-work carrot.

In other words, the social programmes could well be contributing to crime, rather than preventing it. On that possibility alone, a rigorous and independent review is urgently needed.

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