The opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) is proposing “a second chance compact” to help young Vincentians turn away from a life of crime.
“It cannot be talk, talk, talk, or bring in your guns and give an amnesty and so on and so forth. We have to give the young people a practical alternative lifestyle to turn them away from the other attractions of the quick-buck dons, as it were,” party vice-president, St. Clair Leacock said of the initiative.
“And that is what we are rolling out to show, ‘Look, if you want to bring in your gun, and give that up and give up those lifestyles, all is not lost, we will be at your side,” Leacock said Monday on the party’s radio programme on NICE Radio.
“But it’s more than that. And these are the various silos, various sets of opportunities that you can look at. Turn a new leaf and have a new lifestyle, you might have to sweat a little bit more, but there’s far less danger and exposure to violence than if you stayed in that old path.”
Leacock said he outlined the programme at the funeral of murder victim Daniel “Tiger” Issacs, 39, on Saturday.
Police, citing reports, said that about 11:30 a.m. on Jan. 29, Isaacs was at a shop in Sion Hill when a masked assailant approached and shot him about his body, killing him on the spot.
Leacock said he spoke candidly at the funeral.
“I spoke candidly, and I’m glad I received a nod from both his family and from the preacher,” Leacock said, adding that he used his tribute, “to highlight the challenge that crime and violence now play in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
Leacock, who is also the opposition spokesperson on national security matters, said he also pointed out “that we still need, more forcefully, to begin to look at St. Vincent and as a place for second chances for young … [people] who have fallen through the cracks, … or who get caught up in those situations and circumstances”.
He spoke of “the pain and suffering that’s exacted on the mothers in particular, and the rest of the family members” when people are killed violently.
“… because, one thing, … when you see a funeral, however old, however decrepit, however sick, however weak, however feeble, however whatever was the circumstance of the person, families do mourn the loss of a member, because that person would always be very, very dear to someone else.”
He said it is “even more emotional” for mothers when they lose their children.
Leacock said he used the tribute at the funeral to “whet their appetite a little bit”, adding that the NDP hasn’t spoken publicly in detail about its “second chance compact”, to deal with the situation of crime and violence in St. Vincent and the Grenadines”.
He said the causes of crime are “a mixed bag. But poverty is like salt in the menu. Too much of it is, obviously, going to spoil whatever you’re having. And the absence of it surely will be reflecting the fact that it is missing from the equation.
“So, if we ignore that, we do so at our own peril. But we have to pay attention to all the other things — family life values, people’s personal self-development, education, job opportunities, rebuilding our communities, because it takes a community to bring up a child or something like that and that too, we have to look at.”
He said the issue is “multifaceted” and the NDP does not want “to suggest there’s a quick fix, but the fact is, we can do something about it”.
He said a study he did seven years ago showed that the country was spending EC$13,000 per year to keep a person in prison.
“And the budget allocation for the prisoners then was $5 million,” he said, and speculated that it might have risen to EC$7 by now.
“And where we’re spending $13,000 per prisoner, we’re spending $5 per Scout, Guide, Cadet, Brownie, Red Cross, Pathfinder, you name the youth group, and almost nothing on the National Youth Council,” Leacock said.
“Today, when we have increased another $2 million on the prisons, we are still giving the same $5 to those youth groups. So, the thing is, that there is far less emphasis on the preventative aspects of crime, and far more emphasis on the accommodation, and rehabilitative aspect of crime. And our parents always told us prevention is better than cure.”
Leacock said that while he does not have statistics, he believes rehabilitation programmes in prisons are “just simply not enough.
“I believe some prisoners are exposed to opportunities to do the academic things, the CSEC studies. Some are being given an opportunity, I believe, for farming; some are being trained to do one or two other disciplines, in some cases, welding, mechanics work in the garage, body work on vehicles, but it doesn’t seem to me to be very structured,” Leacock said.
“In any event, you don’t want to make it over-structured to say, well, the place is a good place to get the first experiences…”
He said that in terms of addressing unemployment, “the government’s finally coming to the table” with the Offering National Support for Internship Training and Employment (ON-SITE) programme.
“And we are reminding people this is also not new. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said, adding that there was a time when every young person who did not make it through the school system learnt a trade.
“And the mantra of our grandparents’ era was go learn a trade… In other words, whatever it is, don’t stay home idle and on the blocks as if you can’t do something for yourself,” Leacock said, adding that many artisans have become extremely successful middle-class people, and have built great homes and traveled abroad.
“Now, we are trying to baptise or rechristen those things now with … [as ‘techvoc programmes’]. You have a lot of nice new names for them and so on, but it was always there,” he said, adding that this has been “part of what has been with us in the New Democratic party for a while: how we could have a good-structured apprenticeship program across the board using that which we have”.
He said a certificate given to an intern who has completed a programme at a local company, say VINLEC, CWSA or Port Authority would carry much weight.
“And that helps them to be able to get meaningful employment, especially when they can demonstrate their hands-on ability.”
He noted that the government is talking about expanding the nation’s fishing fleet.
“But instead of letting all the moneyed interests now dominate the seas, because they can buy the US$150,000 trawlers to go to sea, why not try to get some of the men, maybe a half a dozen, or a dozen of those, one per constituency for that matter, and form those who are interested into cooperatives and let them learn a life at sea?”
He said the country also needs to look at the NDP’s proposal of marrying idle hands to idle lands.
“… government has lands all over the place laying fallow with a lot of cattle grass, why not parcel out portions of lands and invite a number of these young men and give them the extension officers’ help and assistance to grow vegetables, to grow whatever commodity…”
He said the government can then purchase the produce for use in state-run facilities, such as hospitals and schools, as well as private hotels and restaurants.
Leacock also suggested the revival of the Marketing Co-operative.
“So, I just expanded that to show you that all those have to go into our second chance opportunities to keep those guys away from a life of crime and violence… This is an upgrade of our old Social and Redemption Charter, where we are now calling it a Second Chance Compact.”
He said it is just about a 1,000 people who are creating the crime situation in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
“Of the 40 crimes, if you attach 40 of them to each of those crimes, it is just about 1,000 and you can do the division to say if it is 1,000 of those in crimes, how many dons they have who take control of these unfortunate minds.”