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Ninety-Six Percent!

Most male inmates lack higher education, youth affairs activist Nuri Muhammad reminds of education-and-crime link

Approximately 96 percent of Belize Central Prison’s male inmate population lacks tertiary-level education, data from the Belize Crime Observatory (BCO) informs.

According to BCO, up until December 2022, of the 1163 male inmates, only 43 (or 3.7 percent) had a tertiary level of education, and only 141 (or 12 percent) had up to a Fourth Form high school education.

Interestingly, 977 male inmates have education below a fourth-form level. The data also shows that 47 percent (or 550 out of the 1163) had some level of primary education, with 207 inmates having actually not completed Standard Six. If the number of persons who lack any education at all is included (i.e., 74), the number increases to 281 out of 624 lacking a completed primary education.

Senior Advisor to Leadership Intervention Unit Nuri Muhammad

''Certainly, there is a link between those who did not finish school and them getting involved in crime,” said long-time activist in youth affairs and author of the book “Insights Into Gang Culture in Belize: Essays on Youth, Crime, and Violence,” Nuri Muhammad. “Crime, primarily, is used as an economic way to provide because they do not have the education to get a job.”

Muhammad underscored to our newsroom that there is, indeed, a negative correlation between education and the likelihood of young men entering a criminal lifestyle.

Muhammad explained that many of the inmates would usually commence their criminal carrier by handling stolen goods or selling drugs as a means of generating income. Eventually, in some cases, these same people would get involved in other lawless behavior known as secondary violence, which can include murder, harm, or attempted murder.

While Muhammad says that he will be the first to admit that those individuals are in prison due to their social circumstances, it does not justify their behavior. He pointed out that there are a lot of people in society that are poor and did not get the chance to finish school; however, they have never committed a crime, and despite that, they have chosen to be productive citizens.

“So it is not a proper logic to say because you have committed a crime is because you are poor, or the other way around, once you are poor, you will commit a crime. Those two do not go together,” Muhammad clarified. “What is true is that when you study those who are in prison, you find that a large percentage of them did not finish primary school. There are also people in all these villages that haven't even gone to school and are not involved in any crime, so you need to understand that there are other circumstances that contributed to these young men being in prison in such large numbers.”

Some of those circumstances, according to Muhammad, include poverty, lack of education, and lack of economic opportunities, among several others.

When we asked about steps that the government can take to address the problem, Muhammad, who is a member and senior advisor to the Leadership Intervention Unit (LIU), indicated that the LIU program, which is expected to be launched in the upcoming weeks, will assist in addressing the problem of young people and crime at a lower level. However, according to him, that will not be enough.

“You also need to spend time in education and ensure that the education department expands the opportunities for more young people to get into school. Once we are able to do that, I think we will be able to stem the tide because young persons who are in school or are gainfully employed are less likely to get in trouble with the law. They are busy with school or work and do not have time for anything else,” advised Muhammad.

He pointed out that the majority of the time, idle minds set the precedence for criminal behavior; however, if young people are in school and engaged in cognitive and rational disciplinary thinking, then the chances of them getting involved in criminal behavior decrease.

“It is only when they are intelligent enough to make the right decision that they will avoid getting involved and doing something that is criminal,” ended Muhammad.

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