Dan Van Ness,
executive director of the Center for Justice and Reconciliation at Prison
Fellowship International, Washington, DC. Said:
“Crime is a wound, justice should be
He wrote this
statement in his recent article on Restorative Justice. More importantly, I
like how succinctly he defines restorative justice because it propels me to
the crucial reason for the serious crime problem:
“Restorative justice involves
looking beyond retribution to find deeper solutions that heal broken
Justice certainly must be a subject for several town meetings. However, the
phrase “broken relationships” is what I want to use as my spring board for
this presentation. Is this what it is all about? “Broken relationships?
Perhaps it is the simplest and most profound way we can truly explain why
people become violent. Yes, they become violent because of broken
relationships. But before you hasten too fast in thinking that this
capsule definition is limited to how one relates to one another, I want to
draw your attention to something deeper.
of crime prevention is the proper development of:
Understanding and managing yourself effectively.
Then we have
Interpersonal Intelligence: Understanding and relating effectively with
intelligence also referred to as emotional intelligence is:
The ability to acknowledge, value
and manage your feelings so that they are expressed appropriately and
effectively, laying the groundwork for meaningful relationships and
productive teamwork. It is also the ability to recognize and diagnose the
emotion of others and the ability to respond appropriately to emotional
I am presenting
tonight that the crucible for crime prevention and reduction is the primary
nurturing and training unit of growing children to provide the environment
for the development of emotional intelligence. This includes self-control
and self-discipline, pro-activity and persistence, and the ability to
motivate oneself. It is having a healthy self concept. Most criminals do
not have a healthy self-concept.
What is the
primary nurturing and training unit I am talking about? It is the family
managed by adult parents.
We need not be
reminded that it is during the first three years of the child’s life that
the proper development of intrapersonal skills is realized. Hence,
parenting skills are crucial. It is extremely difficult, although
possible, to rebuild an adult person who has been wounded from early
have already established that broken relationships are the fundamental
reasons for persons choosing a life of crime. I am suggesting that the
relationship that is broken is the INTRApersonal relationship; and
that is because of poor INTERpersonal relationships with significant others
in the one’s life at an early age.
What can we do about that?
It might be
already evident to most, if not all of us, that the answer to the reduction
and prevention of crime is education—educating parents to be
parents. The sad truth is that too many of today’s parents were not
parented to parent others effectively. Many of the parents of yesteryear
did not concentrate on parenting so that those they were parenting would be
able to transmit critical life skills and positive values down through the
generations. They did a marvelous job at bad parenting so that their offsprings and their offsprings’ offsprings are now reproducing the same
dysfunctional patterns of behavior and transmitting the same immoral
principles. The type of family government was the authoritarian style. In
fact, the school, the church, the government, and the society at large, by
using the same authoritarian style have successfully reinforced parental
education. This authoritarian style can be aptly described with these
“Children are to
be seen and not heard.”
“Do as I say and
not as I do.”
In fact, one
of the typical characteristics of the authoritarian style of leadership is
that of shaming and blaming. Parents who often feel that their
authority position is being threatened usually intentionally or
unintentionally wound with their mouths and their hands. It was all about
the misuse and abuse of power.
blaming is one of the major predictors for the lack of empathy in children
then adulthood. In an article, “Violence and Parenting Education,” Paul Jay
children growing in today’s society appear to have little or no empathy for
others. They have no sense of social responsibility and no sense of the
importance of such values as respect, courtesy, decency, and morality. The
most notable thing that leads some kids to be violent, brutal and murderous
is the lack of empathy.”
children first and best learn empathy? It is in the home from mom and dad
and from the daily caretakers of little ones
authoritarian style of leadership, which was the main stay decades ago,
creates the worse environment for developing good conflict resolution
skills. In fact, it produces conflict. It is not good for developing
empathy. And now we are reaping the harvest of generations of wounded
children because of poor parenting skills.
Would it be too
harsh to say that we have created this monster of a violent society?
We claim to be
a Christian nation, but our behaviors are not Christ-like. Too many of our
spiritual leaders have been preaching a toxic faith that has crippled
thousands of believers and more so ruined wholesome family relationships.
The Devil has
been successful in seducing us to becoming a violent people. A French
philosopher of the 19th century said this about Satan:
“Most people would not
recognize Satan even if he had them by the throat.”
He has us by
our throats but we don’t even know it. We are mesmerized into complacency
by his subtle initial warmth and enticement that suddenly freezes us into a
state of indifference, stupidity, and callous behavior. We are a nation
that has been frozen in the refrigerator of years of toxic faith and poor
Here are my own
findings, having worked with many violent or abusive men and women. It
reveals a deadly formula for violence. Here it is:
rigid, inflexible religious beliefs are combined with rigid family
practices the outcome is always violence–physical or non-physical.
church has a major part to play in re-examining its teachings and methods,
especially about family life. First it is guilty of passive violence
against the family--the turning of the head. Telling a woman, “that’s your
burden you have to bear,” forcing her to stay in an abusive relationship.
Again I ask the
question: What can we do about the problem. Our best antidote to crime is
education. We have to educate our spiritual leaders, parents, politicians,
Let us look
at marriage and crime.
A research “Can
Married Parents Prevent Crime?” by the Institute for Marriage and Public
Policy, Washington DC, 2000-2005 provides insight into the relationship
between crime and marriage.
Here is a
“Does family fragmentation raise the
risk of crime and delinquency? In a review of 23 recent US studies
published in peer-reviewed journals between 2000 and 2005, all but three
found some family structure effects on crime or delinquency. Married
parents appear to reduce both the individual risk and the overall rates of
crime. That is, recent research strongly suggest both that young adults
and teens raised in single-parents homes are more likely to commit crimes,
and that communities with high rates of family fragmentation (especially
unwed child-bearing) suffer higher crime rates as a result.”
McCartney’s research he published in his book “Neuroses in the Sun” over
decades ago also reveals the impact of family fragmentation and its impact
on violence. Most importantly, his research spoke directly to the effect
of the absentee father on family life and in particular, the boys of the
We are so slow
to learn. Where are our fathers today? We have a higher percentage of
unwed mothers and fathers. We have too many fragmented families in our
The 2000 census
tells us that there were 87,742 households in The Bahamas. 42.5 % or 37,321
were where married parents lived. 57.5% or 50,140 were where no married
parents lived together. Out of that figure, there were 7,342 common law
Let us do some
inferences using world trends. Based on the way families are managed, out
of the 37,321 married households, about 20,000 of them are with absentee
parents--that is parents who live there but are not emotionally involved in
the lives of their children. That would leave only 19.7% or 17,321 where
there would be normal to okay married parents living with children, and
almost 80% where there are actual or emotionally single parent families.
Couple this with poor parenting styles, we do have a mess to deal with.
Let’s look at other factors affecting crime and solutions.
The Role of
Fathers. This subject of
single-parent families brings us to the important role of fathers.
We have too long devalued the role of men in the lives of their sons and
family life. I am told that at the Prison where there are approximately
1500 inmates, 50 of whom are women, on visitation days those coming to visit
the male inmates are the girl friends, mothers, grandmothers, aunties,
sisters, not the fathers. The number of fathers visiting regularly can be
counted on one hand. Why is this? If we could get fathers to be
actively involved in family life and be more compassionate and caring, we
could reduce crime in our nation. We need to teach our fathers how to
One area in
which males and fathers need re-education is the conception of what it is to
be a man. In The Bahamas manhood is defined based on virility not
stability, sexual performance, the number of offsprings produced, and the
number of women impregnated. This conception has become one of the sources
of family fragmentation which leads to childhood delinquency then crime.
Social Stress. In the
article, “Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice,” Don Weatherburn
and Bronwyn Lin state: “A growing body of research evidence drawn from
studies of individual families suggests that economic and social stresses
exert their effects on crime by disrupting the parenting process. The
authors examine the role of parenting and delinquent peers as mediating
factors in the relationship between economic stress and delinquency. They
point to the importance of increasing family supports and parenting skills
as a means of reducing juvenile involvement in crime.”
The point is
that we need greater support from the church, community, and other agencies
for the economically stressed families as a means to reduce and prevent
crime. The government alone can’t do it.
It still amazes me that
Bahamians still want to have lots of children. And what is more startling,
poor and uneducated parents want more children than they can handle.
Research is indicating that the size of families also impact violence. In
his study entitled “Peer Modeling of Classroom Violence and Family
Structure: An Experimental Study” Bromley H. Kniveton concludes that
children from large families were more willing aggressors than those of
smaller families, especially in poor families where parents or the parent is
always on the go. Thus we go back to my springboard point: “broken
relationships” is a fundamental reason for crime increase.
Promotion in the Education System.
Perhaps another precursor to children becoming violent is that of the
debilitating practice of social promotion which, I am told should have been
stopped. The truth is that social promotion would not have had a long
life in the educational system if parents were not supporting it. Imagine
400 grade 12 students completing the school year and only 150 completing
with a GPA of 2.0 and above. The others may have 1.9 to 0.9 averages. Yet
they celebrate like grand achievers at proms. Many of these students do
not have the social and comprehension skills to obtain a proper job. Some
of them cannot read at all or read with comprehension. Many of them find
other sources to uplift their egos: gangs, violence, alcohol, sex, and
promotion has become a generation mill for criminals. Policy makers,
parents, and educators are to blame. If parents insisted on quality
performance and considered proper education a must to moral and social
development, our country would be different today. As you can see our
challenge is the parents who themselves a decade ago left school with a
school leaving certificate and who may be making a comfortable salary in the
tourism industry. Why do we need education? Maybe this is the drawback
of a tourism society that accepts workers with low-level academic and
job-related skills. What is the solution? Get rid of social promotion
completely, even if the cost is high. We must start somewhere. What we
will save down the road in the next generation cannot be quantified in
dollars and cents. What is the solution? Educate our parents and
teachers, and let policy makers think about the future strategic position of
the nation instead of helping politicians win votes during election.
Counseling. We know
that too many children are being caught in the middle of nasty custody
battles. Research indicates that it is not always the divorce itself that
may result in delinquent or rebellious behavior in children, but the way the
parents drag them through the battle of ownership and loyalty. I am
suggesting that one way of making the judicial system family friendly is to
create policy requiring five hours of post-mandatory counseling for all
couples legally separating or getting a divorce. This can certainly
help in reducing or preventing the risk of children becoming criminals.
Hierarchical Family Structure.
Perhaps what is most crippling to society is the traditional hierarchical
family structure where someone (most always the male) reigns supreme, and
the wife and children are the loyal, obedient subjects. I believe it
contributes directly to the creation of violent children, especially our
boys. In the book “Transforming Abuse–Nonviolent Resistance and Recovery”
by K. Louise Schmidt, she quotes an outstanding author on peace and
must be . . . a liberation of the male psyche from preoccupation with
domination, power hunger, control of patriarchal culture. This requires
commitment to deep study, combined with willingness for painful,
uncomfortable, and often shocking change. "
How can we
change this? It can be changed first of all through a reexamination and
realignment of our personal beliefs about the family structure and then
through the systematic education of our sons and daughters.
“Changing the way
we raise our children in the only long-term path to peace. . .”
I need not
remind you that parents' behavior and interactions with their children have
shown to be important predictors of whether or not those children exhibit
violent behavior. There is a growing body of evidence that parental
intervention can have substantial, long-lasting effects in reducing violence
Let me share
with you the basics that are needed to make the change. In fact the urgent
cry today is that we need to go back to basics, but I do not believe that
all of us know what the basics are. Let me present them to you.
The ability to
read and write with full comprehension, to interpret, to transfer, and to
apply knowledge to new situations.
A spirit of togetherness. “No man is an island.” We are lacking a “front
porch” in our neighborhoods where friends and family sit and share.
Fairness, the equal treatment of people regardless of color, race, gender,
religion, ethnicity, and physical ability.
The quality of being steadfast, to be depended upon in all relationships
through bad and good times.
Being warm, welcoming, and respectful to all with whom we come into contact.
Steady attention and effort to
one’s occupation. Seizing opportunities for growth and change. Creativity.
Integrity and honesty.
Moral or ethical
strength. The quality of being honest, transparent, and consistent. No
sneaking around. Without this we can never have corrupt-free police force
or political leaders. People of integrity do not accept bribes or cover up
wrong, even it is their best friend.
Faithfulness or devotion to a person, a cause, obligations, or duties
popular or unpopular.
The state of being just and
unbiased. The principle of treating all persons equally. Dealing with
problems in all spheres of life with equity.
forgiving, or compassionate treatment of, or disposition towards others,
even in unjust situations.
Capable of being depended upon, no matter what.
Putting others above self.
Temperance. Abstinence from alcohol,
tobacco, and illegal drugs. Moderation in the amount of food one consumes.
Being morally sound and taking courses of action because one is connected to
The Higher Power.
Here are the closing lines of
a poem I wrote a few years ago entitled: “Why stop the Crime”
What profits would we gain by
stopping the crime when we have gained so much from it all the time?
Why think of pain, loneliness,
Why think of the tragedy our
Why think of life loss if life
Why think of dysfunctional
families if family isn’t much?
Could it be that we were
poisoned through generation in time
By the greed and lust of power
What is the antidote to the
poison of passivity and greed?
It must be a mental
metamorphosis to take the lead.
If we continue to be poisoned by
the greed for power,
Our nation will die and we would
not even realize it’s a goner;
Because a crime isn’t a crime to
the unchanged mind,
Unless there is a re-creation of
our lives and minds.
Then, and only then, will we
find the power to stop the crime.