Fri | Feb 26, 2021

Concerns about social interventions under ZOSOs

Published:Sunday | July 12, 2020 | 12:00 AM

Some concerns are being raised about the design of social intervention programmes being implemented under zones of special operations (ZOSO).

Speaking during a Gleaner Editors’ Forum on Friday looking at the prime minister's declaration of August Town as a ZOSO, director of research at the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CAPRI), Dr Diana Thorburn, said the intervention programmes need to be clearly articulated at the outset of each operation and rigorously designed. She said this is necessary so that the objectives of each intervention can be properly measured and attained.

“And when I say rigorous design, I’m talking about boring things like baseline measures and periodic evaluations … It’s not very exciting to talk about that, but that is really, in my view, what it boils down to. We really have to understand what we are doing before we spend the time and money to do it,” she underscored.

She said as far as she knows, there is no clear indication of what interventions will be implemented in August Town, where the ZOSO was implemented on Wednesday last week.

“I agree with you that there ought to be,” she responded to a question raised by chair of the forum, Integration Editor Damion Mitchell. “As far as I know, there isn’t, and this is my concern about ZOSOs in general, not just in August Town.

“I don’t know that there has been any rigorous evaluation. One may say it’s too soon to do it, but if there was an in-built evaluation mechanism, then there would at least be some kind of preliminary result of ‘are these things working’,” she argued.

However, she was careful to state that this does not mean the interventions under the ZOSOs are not working. She pointed out that the move, for example, to provide residents with a tax registration number and national identification, as was done under the first declared ZOSO in Mount Salem in St James, are useful irrespective of a lack of defined metrics.

“I’m not saying there isn’t any value in some of the things being done, but if the ZOSOs objective is to reduce crime eventually, I would imagine with steps along the way, then we need a better idea of what aspects of crime they are aiming to reduce and exactly how they are going to do that, and why they think that particular intervention is going to achieve that result,” Dr Thorburn said.

“What happens with so many of these interventions is that they seem like a good idea, but we can’t go on that. And we should know by now in Jamaica, that seeming like a good idea is not going to get us anywhere,” she said. “We are going to spend time, we are going to waste money and we are also going to waste people’s goodwill.”

Programmes could alienate target groups

She added that care also needs to be taken to ensure the programmes are not alienating the persons who need to be reached.

“So many of them are so fed up with being in these interventions. I had a friend who was a trainer and she’s always being hired by these NGOs. And she went into this community and one of the young men said to her: ‘Miss, we train till we strain'.”

She continued: “You have these kids or young people; they come in [and] you have them there every week or every Saturday, whatever it is. And at the end of it, there is nothing that’s going to change, and then two years later, another group rolls in and says ‘come, let’s do the training’ or whatever it is.”

“That’s the other side of these interventions that I don’t think is taken into consideration… that the very people who you want to be reaching, you’re losing them,” Dr Thorburn said.

Real stakeholders needed at the table

Councillor for the Papine division, Venesha Phillips, also raised concerns about the composition of the committee established under the Law Reform (Zones of Special Operations) (Special Security and Development Measures) Act, 2017 to provide oversight to social interventions in areas declared zones under the legislation. She said the construct does not include all the relevant stakeholders.

“If you’re going to try to achieve attitudinal change; if you’re going to try to get community cultural change, then this has to be something that is thought out and not gloss over the problems that we have,” she argued.

“So what you need at the table [is] the group of stakeholders, most of whom are missing from this in terms of the construct. So, for example, you have a research unit in the form of CAPRI, who would have been studying it…,” she argued.

Phillips said once the relevant stakeholders are involved and bipartisanship is achieved, then the move should be to understand how each objective will result in behaviour change.

“How will that build police-community relations? How will that strengthen intelligence? Because that’s where we have to go, because you are going to have to enforce under your ZOSO to go after those who are committing the crimes, and you’re also going to have to build the confidence of the people,” she said.  

Milton Tomlinson, Peace Management Initiative representative, also said that a joined-up approach is needed to bring sustainable change to August Town. He said more could have been achieved if the analysis was done on what led to August Town’s one year without a murder in 2016 and acted on in a timely fashion.

“If at that time we had done the analysis, come with the intervention and get the youths involved [change could have been achieved],” he said.  

“I am not one who is going to sit here, or any forum, and say I am not into talking with gunman… because from the PMI standpoint we build community, and by building community we engage with family and we engage with the entire community… because if you don’t treat with the entire community and you treat with just some guys, the spouses and the relatives are going to call for blood,” he argued.  

He cautioned that no intervention programme should expect to reap results in a mere year or two.

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