The ongoing efforts by the Holness administration to reform legislation, particularly by enhancing sentences for various offenses, have sparked a crucial debate within the society. While these revisions align with the changing times and are a welcome step towards addressing criminal activities, they raise an essential question: does the deterrence effect truly address the core issues, or does it merely respond to offenses with punitive measures?

In evaluating the effectiveness of security approaches like States of Emergency (SOE) and Zones of Special Operations (ZOSO), it becomes apparent that while these strategies yield tangible results in the short term, they might primarily serve as a temporary solution, addressing symptoms rather than eradicating the root cause of societal challenges.

Moving beyond punitive measures, the conversation must shift towards understanding and addressing the underlying issues affecting the hearts and minds of the Jamaican populace. While law-abiding citizens undoubtedly oppose criminal activities, attention must be redirected to the demographic statistically associated with higher crime rates: young men. Delving into their experiences, needs, and aspirations becomes imperative in crafting interventions that resonate with their realities.

Simultaneously, it’s essential to analyse the psychology of individuals involved in criminal activities and their reluctance to cooperate with law enforcement agencies. Despite the imposition of stiffer penalties, the occurrence of abhorrent acts of violence against children in 2023, and at the outset of this year, signifies a deeper societal issue that needs to be addressed beyond punitive measures.

Reinstating impactful social programs tailored to contemporary needs could serve as a linchpin in addressing societal behavioural patterns and fostering positive interaction among communities. Initiatives such as Values and Attitudes, Peace and Love in Schools, and Unite for Change should be revamped to reflect the current socio-cultural landscape and re-implemented to tackle the aggression and callousness that might contribute to future criminal behaviour. In winning hearts and minds, we need to also be serious about the penal system and rehabilitation. Incarceration, to my mind, must serve as an even more robust opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of convicted criminals, after all, conviction doesn’t guarantee a reformed individual. 

Likewise, promoting positive change hinges significantly on empowering families, the cornerstone of society. Tailored programs focusing on enhancing familial dynamics, parenting skills, and home environments are sure to yield profound societal impacts. These approaches, tailored to diverse family structures, fortify the foundation for nurturing and stabilizing homes and communities. By fostering strong bonds, and imparting essential values, they will serve as a preventive measure against the societal issues we now face. 

Despite the government’s commendable investment of over $337 billion in interventionist programs aimed at at-risk youths and vulnerable communities, there is a noticeable gap in achieving the desired outcomes. The inefficiency stems from overlapping programs and a lack of cohesive collaboration among agencies, underscoring the need for streamlined operations and a concerted approach.

I think the Prime Minister is well aware of that, and in the pursuit of fostering peace and unity, the pursuit of winning hearts and minds, the proposed establishment of a Ministry of Peace presents a promising opportunity to do just that, consolidate efforts and streamline activities across various communities and issues. However, the very efficacy of this ministry hinges on robust monitoring, evaluation, and coordination mechanisms to ensure optimal resource allocation and impactful outcomes.

Historically, transformative changes haven’t solely arisen from punitive measures but from engaging and aligning with the hearts and minds of the people. Gerald Templer’s assertion that “The answer lies not in pouring more troops into the jungle but in the hearts and minds of the people” echoes the essence of bridging societal divides and nurturing a collective Jamaican identity.

Ultimately, addressing procedural injustices, revitalizing impactful social programs, and fostering collaborative governance toward the issues of crime and violence are pivotal in steering Jamaica towards a harmonious and united society; the society older folk reminisce about. The journey towards lasting peace and justice demands this multifaceted approach, addressing root causes while fostering a sense of shared responsibility and unity among all Jamaican citizens. This saying is like an edict, Prevention is better than cure. Laws fix symptoms. And if crime is the illness, the cure lies in winning hearts and minds.

Sayeed Bernard is an attorney-at-law, Radio Broadcaster and Consultant. Sayeed receives feedback at sayeedbernard.legal@gmail.com