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    This blog highlights effective ideas in the fight against poverty and exclusion, and analyzes the impact of development projects in Latin America and the Caribbean.
  • Community Engagement for Citizen Security in Jamaica



    By Cristina Mariel Fiat

    A citizen security project in Jamaica shows that community buy-in is vital to the success of such interventions as it helps ensure that services needed are delivered to those who need them most.

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    Community Participation Can Break the Cycle of Violence

    In Parade Gardens, a poor neighborhood in downtown Kingston, several street corners have a name and an owner—that of an armed young man who is willing to protect his turf no matter the cost.

    These young men are usually raised by impoverished single-mothers, live in overcrowded homes, and in many cases have suffered physical and psychological abuse at an early age. Many use drugs regularly (marijuana is the drug of choice), father children when they are still in their teens, and abandon school to work for local gangs, where they get the money and recognition they crave. They are also both the biggest perpetrators and primary victims of violent crimes in the country.

    Such is the way of life for many young people in inner-city communities throughout Jamaica. Against this backdrop, Jamaica, with support from the IDB, has been carrying out a citizen security program for more than a decade in 15 communities in the Kingston area to break this vicious cycle of crime and violence that traps so many young men and women.

    A key component of the program has been to provide a package of violence prevention services targeting children, teens, and young adults. These services­—provided through nongovernmental organizations already working in the communities—include alternative dispute-resolution training, mentoring, job and life skills training, remedial education, parenting programs, and drug abuse prevention and treatment.

    Community Empowerment

    To reach these young people, the project had to overcome a major obstacle: the lack of trust in the government because of past unfulfilled promises. To overcome the problem, Jamaica decided to make the communities their main partner. It started by reaching out to local leaders of different political factions so the program would not be perceived as benefiting a particular group. Members of the communities were hired to liaise directly with project coordinators, individuals and communities themselves chose the services that were most needed, and local civilian leaders were encouraged to become champions of the programs. These community representatives then helped enlist vulnerable youth in the training programs.

    To improve lines of communication, the program also helped communities set up a formal governance system through Community Action Committees, responsible for elaborating development and safety plans to meet the needs of the local population and help solve a wide variety of issues, ranging from trash collection and sanitation to building homes for the elderly.

    The arrangement has made the communities more self-confident and self-reliant, greatly facilitating project implementation and the delivery of services to the targeted groups, according to a 2013 report by the IDB’s Office of Evaluation and Oversight. In Parade Gardens, for example, where problems with youth gangs were paramount, a program intervention lead rival factions to sit down and negotiate an end to a turf war. The community also created a non-profit organization capable of raising money to fund its own development projects.

    The IDB report noted that hiring NGOs to provide services also contributed to better implementation because these groups already had trained professionals with intervention protocols in place. The end result is that the program has been able to offer prompt and personalized follow-ups to beneficiaries. According to a special study published by the IDB about the program entitled Life Stories of At-Risk Youth in Jamaica, it is not uncommon for the youths involved to describe the program staff as family members whom they would not want to disappoint.


    Crime data for the targeted communities show that the number of homicides and violent crimes decreased by more than 60 percent from 2002 to 2008, when the first phase of the citizen security program was completed. However, another IDB evaluation conducted in 2010 sounded a cautionary note, indicating that this result cannot necessarily be attributed to the project because of small sample sizes and limited data. The evaluation also found limited effects of the program on household violence and school dropout rates, suggesting that some problems are too serious and deep-rooted even for program beneficiaries to overcome. On the other hand, the same evaluation showed that the program helped improve the willingness of beneficiary communities to report crime.

    Jamaica began implementing the second phase of the program in 2009, also with support from the IDB. In this phase, the government is expanding crime prevention services—which are now being delivered by community-based organizations—and improving governance in another 28 communities. Under this phase, the government has also introduced an on-the-job training program in partnership with Jamaica’s Defense Force.

    Main Lessons

    The IDB evaluations of Jamaica’s citizen security program offers valuable lessons for Latin America and the Caribbean, especially at a time when governments are increasing investments in projects to combat violence. A recent study estimates that, on average, 13 percent of the region’s GDP is lost because of the violence.

    One lesson is that countries need to strengthen reliable information systems to enable them to measure the impact of programs and support decision-making. A second lesson underscores the need for more research to understand and quantify the determinants of crime and violence in the region so new types of interventions can be developed and tested.

    The achievements of the first phase of Jamaica’s citizen security program cannot be underestimated, particularly when taking into account how services were delivered. Citizen security projects are by nature complex because they involve the delivery of different types of interventions aimed at a diverse group of beneficiaries. There is still little understanding about the best ways to implement these projects effectively.

    The most important lesson from Jamaica is that community buy-in is vital to implementing these types of interventions and ensuring their sustainability. The involvement of community leaders, and the relationships they develop with beneficiaries and program staff, can help ensure that the services most needed are delivered to those who need them most.

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