SEATTLE, Washington — In 2016, 43 of the 50 “most murderous cities in the world” were located in Latin America and the Caribbean. The University of Southern California’s Center for Research on Crime developed a diagnostic tool to identify Caribbean youth at risk of engaging in antisocial behavior. The tool connected at-risk youth with targeted treatment based on their level of risk.
In low and middle-income countries, youth gangs are commonly associated with high levels of violence and crime. The goal of prevention programs is to stop crime before it happens by dissuading youth from entering gangs and engaging in antisocial behaviors. Effective prevention programs make communities safer by providing at-risk youth with the necessary tools for them to get out of poverty. This also helps decrease violence in their communities. That is why identifying at-risk youth was such a vital part of the prevention program.
The Cycle of Violence, Crime and Poverty
Unfortunately, violence, crime and poverty ravage many Caribbean communities. Poverty is a “multilevel causal factor for crime and violence” that affects social, psychological, cultural and political aspects of peoples’ lives. This dynamic creates a cycle that perpetuates poverty. Furthermore, violence and crime restrict growth and development, which causes an increase in poverty and inequality levels. At the same time, inequality, social exclusion and relative deprivation contribute to levels of violence and crime.
There are both direct and indirect socio-economic costs as well as economic and “social multiplier effects” associated with violence and crime. The direct costs of violence and crime are of both goods and services used for the treatment and prevention of violence. Examples of Indirect costs are “pain, suffering, increased morbidity and mortality, drug and alcohol abuse and depressive disorders.” The economic multiplier effects include reduced productivity and “lower rates of labor market participation.” The social multiplier effects include the “reduced quality of life” and “the erosion of social capital.” All of this creates a cycle that perpetuates poverty.
Economic Dynamic in Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia
Kathy A. Kolnick, Ph.D., from the University of Southern California’s Center for Research on Crime, spoke with The Borgen Project about the issue of at-risk youth in the Caribbean. One example included countries like Guyana in the northeastern part of South America and Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, island countries located in the Eastern Caribbean. Both areas subside heavily on tourism.
As the tourism industry grew in these countries, lower-paying jobs in service became the only available jobs when previous industries that paid more disappeared. Oftentimes, people that work in the tourism sector work shifts in the afternoon and evening. They travel long distances to get to their jobs because tourist destinations are too expensive for workers to live close by. This means parents working in the tourism sector spend less time at home, leaving their children unsupervised. Kolnick discussed the dangers of parents being gone for extended periods of time. It weakens the family structure and leaves Caribbean youth at risk of engaging in antisocial behavior more opportunities to participate in gang activity.
The USC’s Center for Research on Crime
The Center for Research on Crime at the University of Southern California strives to improve communities by helping them reduce crime and violence. The center has worked with prevention programs in the United States, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Jamaica, Tunisia and the Caribbean. Kolnkick discussed the Center’s work with the Community, Family and Youth Resilience (CFYR) program in the Caribbean.
According to Kolnick, the target population of these prevention programs is the youth. The Center works with local agencies to identify risk factors in that community and develop culturally specific interviews. It uses these as a diagnostic tool in order to identify which youth are most at risk of engaging in anti-social, violent and criminal behavior. The Center has conducted juvenile justice work for at least 20 years. During this time, it has developed an expertise in gang intervention as well as crime and violence prevention and reduction.
Community, Family and Youth Resilience Program in the Caribbean
USAID funded the CFYR, which was a multi-year program. The goals of the program were to decrease the number of Caribbean youth at risk of engaging in antisocial behavior and reduce the amount of violence specifically in Saint Lucia, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Guyana. The approach used in the program was to coordinate treatment based on “an individual’s level of risk or vulnerability.”
The program achieved this by developing networks of trained family counselors who worked with families identified as having at-risk youth. Through these family and counselor partnerships, the program hoped to establish behaviors to lower risk factors and increase positive relationships. By connecting police and other agencies to the community, the program conducted initiatives to expand opportunities for youth. It supported youth employment and improved community safety.
Assessing the Program
In 2017, the Center for Research on Crime conducted focus groups at the beginning of the program to determine which specific issues to address in the prevention tool. It included Caribbean youth at risk of engaging in antisocial behavior as well as parents and community members. The center also analyzed baseline data and developed a Youth Service Eligibility Tool to identify at-risk youth. In 2019, the center analyzed data to assess the overall success of the program.
Overall, the data showed that the program was successful. Dr. Kolnick stated that “73% of the youth who completed the end line interview improved over the course of the program.” She also noted specifically “55% of the youth who completed the end line interview were no longer at high risk at the end of the program.”
Identifying youth at risk of engaging in antisocial behavior and providing them with the resources to create better lives for themselves makes low and middle-income countries safer. At the same time, it helps break the cycle of violence and poverty.
– Araceli Mercer