SENIOR Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Jeremy Taylor, King’s Counsel, has warned adults who headhunt children for gangs as well as children who allow themselves to be enlisted to think twice.
“Recruiting of a child into a criminal organisation is an offence [Under the Criminal Justice (Suppression of Criminal Organizations) Act]. Adults who recruit will be given a 20-year sentence and if you recruit them on the grounds or in the vicinity of a school [or any other educational institution] you will get an additional 10 years,” Taylor said in addressing the recent Ministry of Education and Jamaica Constabulary Force’s virtual anti-gang town hall meeting.
The veteran prosecutor, who was addressing the issue of the use of social media by gangsters to recruit youngsters, was at pains to point out that the glory of gang involvement fades once there is an arrest that peters out with conviction.
“I know that nowadays when people are being recruited into these things nobody thinks of the consequences. Nobody thinks,’ What if I get caught and get successfully prosecuted.’ Once you have a gang charge, it is the hardest thing to get bail in this country,” Taylor told the forum.
“So here we have young boys and young girls, mothers and grandmothers, and so on now have to be running down to police stations to bring you an extra pair of boxers or toothpaste and toothbrush or to bring you food, and on top of that the police search up the food, all these kinds of indignities that you have to suffer. Nobody is thinking about that, nobody is thinking, ‘Boy, if I go, if I actually get convicted, how long will I be locked way for,’ ” he illustrated further.
In a direct address to youngsters who might be fascinated by the trappings of gangsters, Taylor said, “I will tell you, 12 is the magic number, 12 is the age of criminal responsibility in Jamaica, so 12 is the age where an adult charge can be flung on you.”
“And if you are 11, you still stand the chance that you may be taken out of your home and put in some place of safety or some place of detention, because clearly the activity you are up to, especially in relation to a criminal organisation… you can’t be out on the road mixing with law-abiding people. So those are some of the consequences people must think about before they go and run and join gangs and think it’s easy money and power and social status,” the top prosecutor added.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Carl Berry, who also chairs the National Online Child Protection Committee, in commenting on the issue, said gang members who have unrestricted access to the Internet “use and abuse social media platforms through recruitment activities and advertisements” under the guise of dances, stage shows, and other moneymaking enterprises.
“Recruitment occurs in schools, but also occurs on social media and impacts schools,” Berry said.
Director of the Safety and Security in Schools Unit of the Ministry of Education Richard Troupe, responding to the concerns, said, “The data at the Safety and Security in Schools Unit show that schools that are located in volatile communities are extremely vulnerable to persons aligned to gangs.”
“It is very important in response that schools understand that beyond teaching and learning, beyond subjects…if we learned anything from COVID, it is that technology will always be a part of us. For two years we relied on technology to support the continuity of traditional learning when we were not engaging students face to face. We are back to school. I think schools have to reflect on their telephone policies because we have to find a way to teach our children how to use the cellphones,” Troupe said.
In arguing that banning technology use in schools cannot be the solution, Troupe said, “Until we help our children to effectively use technology they will always be victims of misusing technology because they post things online that they should not and it makes them vulnerable to all manner of evil. So it comes with a recognition that we have to revisit the issue of the use of technology in schools and how do we teach our boys and girls to utilise such tools for the continuity of learning.”