Crime and punishment

| 11/08/2009

It comes as no surprise, given the recent rise in serious crime, that there has been a clamour from the wider community to crack down on criminals and introduce stiffer punishment. However, we should all be cautious of such knee jerk reactions as the relationship between crime and punishment is a complex one.

Calling for the return of corporal and even capital punishment, as some comment makers have on CNS, is very unlikely to do anything concrete to resolve Cayman’s worrying increase in crime. Most criminals do not commit criminal acts based on the level of punishment they would receive if caught. After all, the United States, which has the death penalty in around 35 states, still has some of the highest murder rates in the world. With the exception of Arab states, most countries with low crime rates do not have the death penalty. The common traits among countries with low crime rates is not stiffer penalties but a sense of belonging, strong family ties and places where people feel they have a lot to lose.

Most of us don’t commit murder just because if we did we risk a life sentence; we don’t do it because we have a connection to our fellow human beings, we have a sense of belonging, and lots to lose. We don’t commit crime because of what it would do to our families as much as what it would do to ourselves, and above all because we know it’s wrong and have the intelligence and emotional understanding that society functions better without crime.

Murder rates don’t suddenly increase in countries that reduce the punishment, and crime rarely comes down because the sentences get stiffer.

In reality, punishment has little deterrent effect on anyone — criminal or otherwise. If we as a community are going to really address the rise in crime we have to look far more closely at why so many people are committing crime and behaving violently. Addressing the break down of the family, community alienation, hopelessness, addiction and other social problems will have far more of an impact on criminality that introducing the ‘whip’ as one regular comment maker on CNS would have us do.

While there are more obvious things that may help bring down crime statistics, such as improving morale and training in the police service and intercepting the exceptionally high number of weapons that are finding their way on to our streets, what we need to do is look at the underlying causes of crime in the community.

We have to tackle those difficult issues which will stop our young people from shooting each other rather than trying to lock them all up in an already overcrowded prison that offers no rehabilitation and, to be honest, not much long term protection for the community. Aside from the fact that one inmate has been charged with murder while serving a sentence, the prison does not offer a place where people can be rehabilitated, and the criminals who go in come out more often than not better equipped to commit crime than when they went in.

Over the years the criminal justice system in Cayman has spent very little time looking at rehabilitation or studying the reasons why people become involved in crime in a community that is, relatively speaking, affluent. While poverty is often a driving cause of crime and drug misuse which leads to more crime, Cayman by global standards – even with our current financial woes – is a wealthy community. Few people go hungry, most have a roof over their heads and opportunities are relatively plenty.

We can only assume, therefore, that there is an emotional disconnect in our community and what is becoming an increasingly dysfunctional society. The society at large is failing many of our young people, who are emotionally distraught and starved of affection and not enough people are telling them they are cared for and worthy. Young people join gangs to find a sense of belonging that they are not getting from family, friends or their communities. And while the conservatives among us are quick to criticize the concept of building self esteem as rather wishy-washy and politically correct — instilling a sense of worth in people is essential to making law abiding citizens.

Material things have replaced the fundamentals of human need, which is to feel loved, safe and respected. While tackling the social, emotional and psychological reasons for crime are rarely vote winners, they are more often than not the route to a lower crime society. Of course, draconian action can curb crime. If the RCIPS were to announce tomorrow that there will be a curfew introduced on everyone between 7:30 pm and 5:30 am and anyone breaking it will be shot on sight, we will likely see a drop in the crime statistics, but I think we might just see a rapid decline in the population as well and before we know it there’d be no one left to rob or kill anyway.

The complexities of crime and punishment are such that we need to find the balance to protect law abiding people’s liberties while at the same time fostering an environment where crime is unacceptable. But we can only do that by more intelligent methods. Punishment will not prevent crime but merely put a temporary hold on individual criminals. Imprisonment is as much about protecting society from those likely to harm it than it is about stopping them from doing that harm. It is also about retribution — society demands that you pay if you break the rules. We are kidding ourselves, however, if we believe it is any kind of deterrent regardless of whether the prisoners are subjected to a diet of bread and water or living it up, as some people seem to think, at Northward.

Sadly what prison is not, either here in Cayman or in many other communities, is a place of reflection, learning, rehabilitation or the restoration of humanity.

Society at large is as much to blame for its crime levels as the criminals, but it is not too late for us to reconsider the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’ of criminal behaviour and to use our criminal justice system to begin to repair those who are damaged and find out why, so if nothing else we can prevent others from following the same route. Tackling crime requires a holistic approach that must permeate into the very essence of the society and the community and a far more intelligent response than more punishment and more pain.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    To Poster: Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/11/2009 – 22:25.

    The statistics are not for everyone of course, but give us a sense of what is really happeningaccording to the data. 

    You make some excellent suggestions though about sending prisoners away.  The problem of course is, as another poster pointed out, that criminals often become better criminals in jail. I am in agreement that compelte isolation would be the best, along with hard labour. Isn’t the govenrment hurting for money? Couldn’t these inmates be used as day labourers?

    I recall reading a posting on CNS that stated that if criminals at Hotel Northward are asked if they want to work (and earn money) for the day, they can blatantly refuse to work and just lay around in the AC watching their TV all day.  That HAS TO stop.  It seems they have it way too good up there and should be more "punishment".

  2. Anonymous says:
    Thank you for your opinion piece.  I’m sorry to say that I agree with the commentator who wrote:
    "May I suggest that much of the theoretical muddle surrounding crime and punishment is irrelevant. The protection of non-criminals is the relevant issue, and the practical consideration of most interest to most readers is likely to be, "what can be done to make me and my family safe from these criminals"?"

    I’m sorry if some kids didn’t get enough love from their families, but not sorry enough to pat them on the head and say "that’s OK, you poor misunderstood youth" when they’ve killed a member of my family. 

    I agree that prison is nothing more than a place where criminals get to learn how to be better criminals from other criminals.  There is no rehabilitation in a prison, just further corruption of the offender, but that’s easy to solve: just don’t let them out, or alternatively at least keep them in solitary for the whole duration.  Either way though, my family’s safety is where it starts and stops for me so the debate about rehabilitation is irrelevant.

    I see that someone re-posted the statistics posting from before.  Plainly Cayman’s days as a safe little island are over (if they ever really existed).  In the end, it’s not going to be my concern any more.  My spouse does not feel safe here anymore.  I can’t blame them. There are well-known drug grow ops just down the road (and I live in a very nice neighbourhood) which the police know about but apparently choose to do nothing about.  My neighbour caught an intruder on his property just a week back.  People are getting shot just across the street from my office.  I am neither safe around my office nor safe around my home, and I am the furthest thing from a high-risk lifestyle (the exact opposite really). 

    This is not the Cayman that I signed on to live in, and I’m taking the advice one poster provided and I won’t let the door hit my backside as I vacate the Island.  No choice really, but damned unfortunate.  My homeland apparently has a murder rate that is about 10% of Cayman’s current murder rate.  When I moved here I had been told that the island was even safer than my homeland. They lied. 


  3. Anonymous says:

    May I suggest that much of the theoretical muddle surrounding crime and punishment is irrelevant. The protection of non-criminals is the relevant issue, and the practical consideration of most interest to most readers is likely to be, "what can be done to make me and my family safe from these criminals"? There are some practical answers to that question which could be implemented quickly and to thunderous applause from the non-criminal population.

    First, as the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by young males, if all young males (under 35) found guilty of ANY violent crime currently punishable by any length of imprisonment (and I would include possesion of unlicensed firearms in that category), were simply locked up until they were over 50, the incidence of repeat violent offences would go down as released convicts over the age of 50 tend not to re-offend. If considerationsof equality require that females are treated the same way then so be it.

    Second, enter into a contract with one or more foreign governments, (preferably in a third world which understands and utilises hard labour), whereby all violent criminals and any other criminal sentenced to more than 3 years, serve their time away from Cayman at a price which is a fraction of what the current cost per inmate is. I am sure that there are many countries which would take our convicts for even $5,000 per year. Any convict over 50 who returns to Cayman and commits any other offence would be sent to a foreign prison once again – permanently.

    Use the savings realised to rehabilitate non-violent offenders. Contrary to other notions of punishment, the threat of removal of all known social contacts is likely to be a deterrent for some, particularly when compared with the cell phone friends and family programme currently run at Northward. No longer would we have crime bosses operating securely from within Northward. No longer would we have thugs congratulating other thugs arriving at Northward for their refusal to name the higher ups in Cayman’s criminal heirarchy. Perhaps we could also arrange for a reality TV programme or a live one way webcam link showing what life, gang rape and death are like for those sent from Cayman to a foreign prison which could be shown to the "at risk" population.

    Third, – and this is not likely to be popular – consider decriminalising the simple possession of soft drugs as has been done is some states, while massively increasing the penalties for dealing, trafficking or producing such drugs. I would not have any problem with drug dealers being sent to the worst prison on the planet for the rest of their lives. I am just not sure that we should be paying for scholarships which send 16 year old kids stupid enough to experiment with ganja to the "how to be a thug" school currently run by the government at great expense at the Northward hotel.


  4. Anonymous says:

    To Clarify:

    To be correct, as was pointed out on CNS a couple weeks ago:

    Murder rate in Cayman is roughly 14.3 per 100,000.  In the worst state in the USA is not this high (the exception is not a state, but is the District of Columbia). Those statistics can be found here:

    You may be correct that states with the death penalty have higher murder rates, but they are probably the states with the larger populations in the south.

    Posting from first link for convenience

    Some Scary Murder Statistics

    In 2008, New York had 6.3 murders per 100,000 population, or 523murders in total for a population of 8,345,075 (

    The CIA World Factbook 2008 has the population of the Cayman Islands at 49,035 ( 

    With 7 murders in the Cayman Islands in 2008 (, that gives a murder rate here of 14.2755 (call it 14.3) per 100,000 population. 

    That means that you are 2.27 times more likely to get murdered in the Cayman Islands than you are in New York City.

    Welcome to our new reality.



  5. Anonymous says:

    "Calling for the return of corporal and even capital punishment, as some comment makers have on CNS, is very unlikely to do anything concrete to resolve Cayman’s worrying increase in crime."

    I wonder if there is a correlation between "Old Testament" countries with the eye-for-an-eye philisophy, e.g. USA, Saudi Arabia, Commonwealth West Indies including the Cayman Islands, and the wish for the death penalty, and the "New Testament" countries of Western Europe, Canada, and South America, etc where the death penalty has by and large been abolished.

    • Herr Resy says:

      Since both testaments reflect prehistoric science and fairy stories handed down for generations before Christ (like the virgin birth), maybe it is best to live in a country not tied to outdated prescriptions..

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well writen article.  I do think however you should have referenced who has the highest murder rates, as it is not the United States, and they don’t rank up in the Top 20 either.  A few references would be below to help educate the readers.

     CNS NOTE: Actually although you are right that overall the US is not in the top 20 on all lists that’s because some states have a very low crime rate and they tend to be the ones without the death penalty. The states with the highest murder rates are the southerns states which have executed the most people.

  7. Zero tolerance says:

    A year in jail for the possesion of ganja and five years for cocaine would be a good start.  These high junkies are the start and the end of all of Cayman’s woes.  Drug dealers don’t need guns if they don’t have drugs to sell in the first place. 

  8. Anonymous says:

     Thank you for your thoughtful comments regarding crime and punishment.    The real deterrent is not the punishment, but the perceived likelihood of being caught. 

    If people knew that there was a 95% chance of being caught speeding on South Sound Road, nearly all would drive below 35 MPH, regardless of whether the fine was CI$ 25.00 or CI$ 2500.00.

    When it comes to “crime”, it is either an impulsive act of passion or, (mostly) a judgment based on how likely we think we are going to get caught, but not on what the potential punishment is.