Recommendations for Reducing Youth Incarceration in Belize

This piece is an excerpt from a longer article, “Jails Help Turn Kids Into Criminals. In Belize, There’s a Better Way,” published by InSight Crime in August 2017. (The article for InSight Crime article was translated and edited for clarity from the original article I wrote for Sin Miedos, a blog hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). See my original article in Spanish here).

In recent years, heavy-handed strategies and mass incarceration have been the preferred tactics used by many politicians in the region. Now, facing evidence that this approach has not been effective in lowering levels of violence, some governments are ready to take a different path.

Belize, a country of only 350,000 residents, is extremely vulnerable to natural disasters and climate change. An investment in crime prevention and alternatives to imprisonment may seem difficult, but the reality is that reallocating resources from punitive strategies to community services and treatment is probably more efficient and less costly.

A gap analysis report, published this month by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), provides a mapping of existing citizen security initiatives and recommends actions for future programs. The analysis is based on the experiences of the program, “Community Action for Public Security (CAPS),” financed by the IDB.

The report makes two general recommendations: less repression through police and prisons, and more services for at-risk youth with more targeted interventions for those involved in gangs. This approach requires a deeper understanding of young people and families at risk of being involved in violent acts that goes beyond the generic definition of risk — those that neither work nor study. International evidence shows that any contact with the criminal justice system — police, courts or prisons — increases the likelihood that young people will engage in future criminal activity.

In Belize, many young people in jail don’t pose a danger to public safety, nor do they need to be there for judicial process. So how can the government change this reality? Read more.

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