Violent crime is a serious challenge in Jamaica. Robberies, rapes, murders, and assaults do not just lead to economic costs but may result in the loss of lives and severe emotional distress among victims. Crime also exerts a high toll on communities as the value of property increases and prospects for investment dramatically reduce. These individuals also pay substantially for prison systems, courts, police operations, and the rest of the criminal justice system. All in all, society would benefit greatly from instating systems that would contribute towards crime prevention, and Seventh Day Adventists are uniquely placed to address this issue.
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Trends in Crime
Certain crimes appear to be on the decline in Jamaica; however, overall rates are still much higher in the country than in other societies around the world. The Jamaican Constabulary Force (2013) states that the number of murders in the country decreased by 8%, shooting decreased by 5% while rape and aggravated assault also declined by 35% and 16% respectively. These declining trends have been true for the country since 2009. Larceny and Break-ins also decreased in prevalence by 25% and 27% respectively. Conversely, between 2012 and 2013, there was an increase in the number of robberies within the country. The reports also indicate that gang-related murders account for 48% of the murders while criminal but non-gang-related crimes were responsible for 34% of all murders. In addition, only 7% were unaccounted for in the analysis (Jamaican Constabulary Force, 2013). This means that economic needs motivate most of the wrongdoers. Adventists must determine what their faith teaches about these patterns and what part they ought to play in addressing the problem.
The Christian perspective on personal security
Christianity teaches that crime is a result of man’s evil. The book of Genesis chapter 6 and verse 5 states that the earth was full of violence and corruption in God’s sight owing to the wickedness in men’s hearts. This means that robbery, murder, and aggravated assault are all manifestations of corruption in man’s heart. The bible also teaches that God allowed the existence of local governments to protect innocent parties from evil men. This assertion exists in the book of Peter 2:13-14. Such a deduction implies that the failure of Christianity to reach most members of society leads to the prevalence of greater crime. Seventh-Day Adventists, who inform others about the true gospel of Christ and cause people to get baptized, may contribute towards the reduction of crime. Nonetheless, it is not possible to eliminate sin in a society completely. This is the point where civil governments come in. Proverbs 20: 8 points out that strong rulers scatter evil by their actions. Civil leaders have the responsibility to protect the rest of society by carrying out their duties fairly and consistently (Lipsey & Cullen, 2007).
The basics of responding to crime have been elaborated clearly in the Bible. However, it is essential to understand how to respond to increases in crime. In the past, Jamaican leaders have reacted to such patterns by tightening their existing laws and creating stricter ones. They have also responded by building larger prisons. However, this strategy only deals with crime on a superficial level. In essence, stricter laws increase the taxpayer’s burden of maintaining the criminal justice system. It also propagates the Roman or pagan idea of tackling crime. Law enforcers often take wrongdoers to prison to punish them. However, the proper Adventist way of handling this social problem is restitution. God wants to restore man to his former self. In the book of John 8:7, several people wanted to stone a woman for committing adultery. Jesus stopped them immediately and challenged those who had not committed any crime to stone her. In the book of Matthew 5:38-39, Christ urges followers not to take revenge upon others when they do something wrong. This was the same verse where he told his followers to turn their left cheek when someone slaps their right cheek. Furthermore, the punitive system does not seem to work. Many Jamaicans do not feel any safer today than they did three or four decades ago when there was less crime. Recidivism rates are high, and this proves that prisons do not get to the heart of the problem. Certain low-profile offenders have committed even bigger crimes after prison release (Griffith, 2000).
SDAs believe that pragmatic and proactive methods of punishment exist. The church must advocate for the protection of innocent people from criminals. It is an alternative to punishment because those who design punishment would do so to ensure that the innocent do not get harmed. Rehabilitation may also be regarded as another angle for tackling the criminal problem. Prison is used as a method for making a person a better member of society. It focuses on equipping them with the necessary skills needed to make them functional members of society. As mentioned earlier, most crimes in Jamaica are the result of economic reasons. Gang-related crimes are propagated by financial needs. If wrongdoers have legitimate ways of earning a living then they will no longer need to engage in hardcore criminal activities. Jamaica’s prison system needs to be oriented towards educational and therapeutic goals rather than mere containment and punishment.
Practical steps towards enhancing personal security in society
To foster a sense of care and community, Adventists should volunteer in Jamaican prisons. They need to make regular visits to such facilities and conduct bible studies or even worship services there. Perhaps more importantly, they should demonstrate compassion and care to those individuals. Inmates only require a listening ear to feel a sense of community. As mentioned earlier, evil comes from corrupt hearts. Therefore, dealing with inmates’ spirituality can help prevent recidivism in the future.
Some Adventists may lack the calling to do bible studies with prisoners. However, they can also participate by sharing gifts with inmates. They may use sporting events, recreational activities like music and drama to enhance a sense of community. Alternatively, they could do remedial teaching for interested parties. This would normalize prison life and transform inmates into members of a caring community.
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Christians have the prerogative to match their concern with vocal criticisms of the failures of the prison system. When society errors, it is the duty of those who have more knowledge to speak up. In this regard, Adventists need to point out the futility of using prisons as the only measure of social control. They should criticize while at the same time offering alternatives to this approach. Various media platforms are available for this aspect, so Christians should make thorough use of them (Coyle, 2005).
Adventists have the responsibility of restoring biblical teachings on personal security. They should talk to others about the ways of God. Speaking out against over-reliance on the prison system and prison volunteer ships would be effective ways of minimizing the personal security problem in Jamaica.
Coyle, A. (2005). The effects of imprisonment. London: William Publishing.
Griffith, L. (2000). The fall of the prison: Biblical perspectives on prison abolition. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Jamaican Constabulary Force (2013). JCF periodic serious crimes review. Web.
Lipsey, M. & Cullen, F. (2007). The effectiveness of correctional rehabilitation. A review of a systematic review. Annual Review of Law and Social Sciences, 3(4), 15-89.