JIS News

Minister of National Security, Senator Trevor MacMillan, has said that with 80 per cent of all crimes in Jamaica related to gang activity, the idea of criminalizing gang membership should be considered a priority in the fight against crime.
“Gangs are a major contributor to murders and shootings, accounting for over 40 per cent of murders. There are many murders which are committed, but estimates by the police have shown that over 80 per cent of all crimes have a gang-related connection. Against this background, I wish to consider the criminalisation of gang membership,” Senator MacMillan stated.
He was addressing a symposium on Criminal Gangs hosted by the Ministry of National Security and the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) yesterday (Nov.4), at the Terra Nova Hotel in Kingston, under the theme: ‘Developing an integrated approach to gang prevention and intervention in Jamaican communities and schools’.
Noting that the method has proven to be successful internationally, he said that Canada, in 1997, enacted new legislation, which enables judges to give a maximum 14-year sentences to gang members. Also, Honduras in 2003, passed legislation to establish a maximum of 12-year prison sentences for gang membership, a penalty which was then increased to up to 30 years, he pointed out.
Continuing he said “four years ago El Salvador’s congress unanimously approved a package of anti-gang reform, which included giving a five-year prison term to gang membership and a nine-year prison term to gang leadership and in Cayman in 2005, the government enacted gang legislation, which among other things, stated that antigang members cannot get parole in the first part of their sentence, which is a minimum of 10 years”.
The Minister acknowledged that while it is useful to examine what other countries are doing, Jamaica must draft legislation to fit its own societal problems.
“Two features particular to our situation is the relation of gangs to our political garrisons in which they are located. The other is the nexus between the gangs and the importation of guns, a serious cause for concern, since statistics have shown that the guns have been the weapons of choice for over 70 per cent of homicides committed over the years,” he outlined.
The National Security Minister asserted that there will be some challenges in carrying out such a programme but that these will not hinder the fight against crime. “There are some issues that will pose some challenges, for instance identifying gang members; it is not as easy as it is with others, such as Latin American gangs, who are easily identified by their clothes or those gang members who have specific tools. But we cannot let that deter us. There is a possibility of employing technology to gain information on the behaviour of gangs in much the same way that gangs have shown they know how to use technology to commit crimes,” he stated.
He pointed out that the recent passing of the six anti-crime bills has given the Government the tools to conquer the problem. “We have what it takes to conquer this problem. We believe that the six anti-crime bills will further neutralise (the gangs) and enable our policemen and women to continue on this drive. In addition we continue to emphasise social interventions in communities particularly targeting young people, especially those attracted to getting involved in gangs,” he asserted.
Commissioner of Police, Rear Admiral Hardley Lewin, who was also in attendance, said it is important that the problem of crime and violence be properly understood so that the country can seek corrective measures for a solution.
“What is very critical as we try to seek answers is to first of all understand precisely the nature of the problem because if we do not, we will continue to seek prescriptive medicines that will only treat symptoms and that will not bring about any form of long-term solution to the problem. We need to know if the peripheries of gangs are mere symptoms of some thing much deeper in society,” Commissioner Lewin, emphasised.
The two-day symposium ended today with speakers focussing on best practices in gang disruption as, well as developing an integrated approach to gang violence prevention and intervention in communities and schools.