With approximately 1,000 men age 18 to 59 years being murdered and a further 800 or more being imprisoned each year, according to data from the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Jamaica could be losing billions of dollars in potential productivity annually from men in their prime to crime and violence.
Using the 2021 murder figures published by the PIOJ, and 2019 data quoted from a global non-profit membership think-tank, Conference Board Total Economy, which indicates that each Jamaican worker’s productivity is valued at US$20,076.14, the cumulative potential productivity lost when men are murdered and incarcerated in their prime years could be roughly about J$6 billion annually.
“As a general rule when you’re doing things like that (calculating productivity loss) to get a ballpark you really have to multiply it (the loss) by three or four,” development economist, Dr Nelson ‘Chris’ Stokes advised, while underscoring the difficulty of calculating the true cost of crime, particularly murder and persistent violence, to Jamaica.
“It (crime) affects the wife and baby mother, it affects the parents, it affects the children, it affects the communities,” he said. “It affects everyone in the surroundings. It’s not just the ‘I can’t work’. It affects the productivity. Who is going to take care of the children?… Will the spouse now have to stay home with the children and not work? And, the X factor- the factor of fear in the society. What is that costing us? I can’t work too late because I have to go home early. There is a very real cost to that,” Dr Stokes reasoned, as he tried to assess the economic repercussions on productivity.
Observing more closely the incarceration of men for serious crimes, financial analyst, businessman and philanthropist, Hugh Reid, added that even though some men are able to re-enter society after being imprisoned, they are often unable to be productive after their release, and even end up back in prison as a result. The rate of recidivism, or re-offence following release from prison, was 41 per cent in 2021, while the rate of readmissions to prison itself was 28 per cent, according to PIOJ data. And, they noted that the majority of those incarcerated annually, 41 per cent, were serving up to 12 months.
“You will almost inevitably come out of prison with your condition being worsened and that has the knock on effect of reducing your ability to work and earn,” the JN Life Insurance general manager pointed out, noting that it contributes to a cycle that leaves families impoverished and socially impacted.
Deterrence to investment
The potential investment loss due to violence exacerbates the economic problem, Dr Stokes added. And although not much study has been done on the direct loss of potential investments due to crime, a Gleaner editorial of September 20, 2016 indicates that the total indirect cost of crime is equal to 3.4 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
The National Security Policy for Jamaica, published in 2007, also points to a negative relationship between crime and violence and foreign direct investment inflows into Jamaica, noting that “Foreign, as well as domestic companies prefer to operate in stable and secure environments, thus high levels of crime influence capital investment decisions.”
The authors of the policy expressed particular concern for investment in the tourism industry, where investment into the sector has, in the past, been affected by negative perceptions and damaging travel advisories. Similar advisories this year have also elicited responses from tourism interests to counter any negative impact on tourist arrivals.
Even though Jamaica’s volatility has led to a mushrooming of a thriving security sector, this boon does not cancel out the net effect of crime on the economy.
“These companies are not only playing an important role by providing security services, but by employing people and buying goods and services and importing and so on and so forth, but my sense is on net, the cost is multiple times the economic activity that it generates,” he said.
Referencing Colombia- where he studied and did research- to further cement his point, Dr Stokes noted that although crime may generate money for an economy, its deleterious effect on the quality of life of citizens is far greater.
“It’s not just about how much money, any index of development has to do with the quality of life as well… To be living in fear is not helpful in the least,” he said.
Education, values and family are key
To tackle Jamaica’s problem with crime and to rescue its men who are both its main victims and main perpetrators, the country will have to address its ailing education system and family structures.
Pointing to the recent Orlando Patterson-led report on Jamaica’s education system, Mr Reid noted that as many as 30 per cent of children were leaving primary schools unable to read, while 50 per cent matriculate from primary to high schools unable to write.
“Psychologists tell you that the first three years of a child’s life are very critical. When you put that on top of the fact that at age 10, 11 or 12 a significant proportion of the children are illiterate, you have put up a huge obstacle that many of them will never be able to overcome,” the Kiwanis district governor cited.
He said when added to the fact that many households are led by poor single women, it means that boys have few positive male figures to model in their immediate surroundings, and so become bait for older males with wanton intentions.
“When you get a death certificate, it first lists the immediate cause of death and then the contributory factors. For me the immediate cause of crime in Jamaica are the problems we have with the education system and then as its contributory factor, the family structure and values,” he argued.
Dr Stokes holds a similar view. There needs to be a keen focus on values.
“We need to revisit our values. Our heroes ought not to be persons who wear their wealth on the outside,” he emphasised.
“There is a subculture that we have adopted that says to be somebody you have to be ‘blinging’ and driving this and wearing that, and it’s not true. It’s a value we have taken from somewhere else, and in the same way we have taken it on, we have the capacity within ourselves to reject it and create another value [system] about family, about society, about taking care of each other and taking the right path to create something that’s sustainable to pass on to the generations that will come after us,” he concluded.