Sun | Dec 10, 2023

Chang wants full engagement to steer youth from crime

Published:Thursday | March 30, 2023 | 1:11 AMAsha Wilks/Gleaner Writer
National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang (centre) and Alex Gainer, USAID acting country representative to Jamaica, chat with Sammaire Petgrave at the USAID and FHI 360’s Local Partner Development closeout ceremony at the Terra Nova All Suite Hotel in St Andrew on Wednesday.

National Security Minister Dr Horace Chang, has expressed the need for a more holistic approach to preventing criminal behaviours in the nation's youth.

“Community-based organisations cannot effectively effect transformation. The reality is when you go into a very depressed community, half the population is struggling to feed themselves daily. So to invite a man out to a meeting to come weekly ... for discussion to listen to what they should do as a parent, the very time to come to the meeting is difficult for them,” Chang said during his remarks at the close-out ceremony of the United States Agency for International Development and FHI 360's Local Partner Development (LPD) activity programme on Wednesday.

He argued that for giving up the time that they would spend on the job to attend intervention sessions would mean that the next day, they could be unable to feed their families.

The minister further stated that there needs to be a three-way partnership between community, the Government and non-governmental organisations to ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of programmes implemented.

Chang lamented the present difficulty the Government faces in locating and connecting with clinical psychologists and social workers to deal with, among other things, the feeling of hopelessness and low self-esteem in youth.

“We have deliberately improved the compensation package for social workers,” he said. “I'm not saying they are paying a big salary now, but they are being paid much better than they were being paid before, and hopefully, we can recruit more of them, and the same thing applies to a clinical psychologist, in particular.”

He added that Jamaica was rich with people of talent and it was unfortunate that youngsters were gravitating to using their skills in unlawful ways.

“The biggest problem I have in crime today is advanced free fraud,” he said, referring to lottery scamming.

He noted that many youth involved in the scheme are young men who have been expelled from school and were previously described as 'dunce' and cannot speak English. But within six weeks, they have learnt how to speak perfect English, he said.

“Now something is wrong somewhere. They pick up a telephone and they stand up right beside any of you, 'You want me show you how it go, boss?' Bam! Bam! Call somebody in Minnesota and the next thing, they have $50,000 in the bank,” he said.

He added that the scammers' operations have become more sophisticated, making it harder to track them.

Over 650 at-risk youths in over 30 volatile communities in a number of parishes were mentored and trained in life skills, with 346 youths receiving psychological therapy; 289 trained in a vocational skill; 140 receiving business development training and grants; and 109 placed in jobs.

The USAID-funded programme was implemented over the last six years at a cost of US$16 million, through collaborating with close to 40 local organisations to advance youth crime and violence prevention.