Column: Innovation, Collaboration & Investment

April 14, 2022

[Written by Shana Williams and Dr. Nicola Paugh]

The recent rise in incidents of community violence is horrific and saddening. Gun and knife crime at the hands of increasingly younger individuals should have everyone paying attention. However, it should not be surprising given the socio-economic conditions long existing in our community, exacerbated by the pandemic. When someone is killed, they are not a matter of research or statistics. That person’s life lost leaves families and the entire community in mourning. But criminality and antisocial behavior are well researched. We know what causes crime to happen. We know what can prevent crime.

Cumulative risk factors add up over the life of a child and across a community. These include poverty, undiagnosed mental health problems, drug availability, lack of parental supervision, academic problems and child abuse and many other factors. When these aren’t buffered with sufficient supports, services, interventions and healthy adult relationships that build resilience, the outcomes are far more likely to involve paths of crime, including violent crime.

Research specific to youth risk shows that criminality and antisocial behaviors are largely predicted as young as 8 years. This means that local agencies working with vulnerable families could likely have identified many of our community members now linked to violent crime 10 years ago. It also means that these services providers could likely predict the children who will be linked to violent crime 10 years from now. This prediction can be debunked with increased prevention and intervention.

The Bermuda Police Services estimates that there are 200 people currently involved in gangs. Whether the focus is current gang members, the families of at-risk youth, or both, something more transformative needs to be done. We spend $80,000 a year to incarcerate individuals who are convicted of crimes. Can we make similar investments in prevention and intervention?

Our community leaders are calling for more to be done, and asking us what can we do? Everyone should be thinking that. Many are already working hard to address the issues, in both government and nonprofit helping services. Others are volunteering or donating to support helping services and programmes. This is all having an impact but not at a scale needed to fundamentally address the root causes.

Any real solution will require all aspects of our community working together. Bermuda needs to collaboratively design pathways towards productive and prosocial livelihoods. This is not easy, but highly complex. It requires resolving root causes of persistent racial, social and economic disparities, disadvantages and inequities. No single policy, programme, government department or nonprofit can solve this level of complexity on their own.

However, the incredible opportunity that Bermuda faces is that it small and it is wealthy as a country, even if it that wealth is inequitably distributed and even if the government itself may be in dire financial states. Recently a new nonprofit was started to address homelessness in Bermuda and demonstrated the quick action that is possible when those with access to private sector resources are passionate enough to get involved in not just the cause but the solution.

What could it really look like for the public, private and third sectors to work together to make a dent in root causes to prevent the consequences that play out as community violence?

IAC’s 2014 Children’s Agenda of Priorities maps out a broad range of policy solutions to address and reverse disadvantage, vulnerability and inequity and build safety, wellbeing, and permanency. All of these social policy areas require more investment and attention and would have a positive effect on the community.

However, a more innovative starting point could be for a collaborative effort to research, test and fund new but evidenced-informed solutions to provide employment and employability support, access to home ownership and household cashflow supports to an entire segment of our community currently experiencing high levels of vulnerability and disadvantage.

When you speak with service providers who work with the individuals involved in violence, most say they just want a job. Employability skills, job training and employment opportunities are a critical part of any possible solution. There is also growing interest internationally in the role of direct cash transfers and guaranteed income schemes, in helping to address poverty and inequality and build household stability and wealth. This is in part out of recognition that many working families continue struggle to afford their basic cost of living – even when in steady, fulltime employment. Finally, home ownership is a fundamental building block for building long-term household security and wellbeing, but something inaccessible to many in Bermuda.

Elements of a basic social safety net and wrap-around support do currently exist in Bermuda, delivered by government departments, and substantially augmented by nonprofits. But what could it look like to really double down and wraparound the 200 families to change their trajectories? Who is willing to be involved?

You cannot comment on community violence without talking about race. Most of our young people involved with crime are black. Most of those in the community with high-net levels of wealth are white. What is the wealthy white community willing to invest to solve the problem?

This scale of this type of solution would be expensive and would require innovative thinking, collaboration, and prioritization by all in the community and investment specifically by those with the wealth and resources. But it would be worth it because this is people’s lives. What is the cost of a life?

-  Shana Williams and Dr. Nicola Paugh work with the Inter Agency Committee for Children and Families [IAC]

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  1. Donald Scott says:

    This is an excellent initial analysis of the most serious social issue facing our community. It also points to a credible pathway towards a sustainable solution that requires full community engagement: government departments (social services, health, education,…) law enforcement at community level, community clubs, private sector helping agencies and private sector resources. That level of collective energy will prove to be one of the keys to success. Thank you Ms Williams and Dr Paugh.