By Jerry Barcon
Law is important for a society, for it serves as a norm of conduct for citizens. It was also made to provide for proper guidelines and order upon the behavior of all citizens and to sustain the equity on the three branches of the Liberian government. It keeps the society running. Without law, there would be chaos and it would be survival of the fittest and every man for himself.
Fear of crime stalks the streets of Liberian cities. Stores in some sections close before dark. Some people carry second wallets with a small amount of money to offer a thief. For the same reason, some parents give their children “mugging money” before they go to school. Others walk near the curbs away from dark doorways. Some keep large dogs so as to frighten away burglars.
Others go to karate schools to learn self-defense all out of a fear of crime. Schools, also hit by the crime epidemic, have been spending millions of dollars on security.
It is not surprising that Liberians fear crime these days. In fact, crime has increased dramatically in the last half century.
You might expect the total number of crime to increase as the Liberian population increases; that is, when there are more people there will be more crime. The Liberian population grew in the past decades, but in the same period the number of crime increased twice as fast as the population.
There are many explanations as to why there are so many crimes in Liberia. Some believe that crimes have increased because of a breakdown in law enforcement. Those individuals suggest more police, stricter punishment for crimes committed and a speedier method of bringing criminals to trial and then sending them to prison.
Crime, to other experts, is a symptom of basic problems in our society. Efforts to reduce crime must therefore concentrate on removing the causes. That is why people commit crimes in the first place.
Some of the root causes given for the increase in crime in Liberia are the following:
Drugs: Most law enforcement people say that illegal drug use is the most important factor to explain the high crime rate in Liberia.
Cocaine, in particular crack, has been singled out in this regard. Cocaine use (including crack) reached epidemic proportions with some estimated thousands of users in Liberia; young, armed gangs dominate the crack trade.
Crack addicts (heroin and other drugs addicts as well) will rob, steal and do almost anything to get money to buy drugs. Although not all criminals are drug users, a great many are. Alcohol abuse is also a factor in many crimes.
Some Liberians have argued that the ease with which one can obtain guns, particularly rapid fire weapons, has contributed to the increase in crime in Liberia. No one suggests that a gun alone commits a crime.
People commit crimes, but the possession of weapons encourage some individuals to take action that they might not otherwise take with weapons in hand; people may be convinced of their invincibility and power and in this frame of mind, commit crimes. The people who are tempted to commit murder or armed robbery have little difficulty finding guns to use in performing those acts.
How to respond to drug abuse? Essentially, two major approaches have been proposed. One way places emphasis on curtailing the supply of drug. Another emphasizes reducing the demand for drugs.
There are three ways to cut the supply of drugs. One is to eliminate or reduce drugs coming to the country/community from abroad or being sold at home. Here, the supply is cut at the source so that drug buyers will not be able to purchase drugs.
A second way to cut supply is punishment; that is, make the penalty for buying or selling drugs so severe that fewer individuals would be willing to do either. A third method is drug testing.
A poor or unemployed person, especially one from a rough neighborhood, is more likely to commit street crime than is a person of wealth. This is possible because some of the poor and unemployed become so desperate that they commit crimes in order to stay alive. Others just give up on “the system” and take what they believe should be theirs. Some are pressured to join gangs, in order to obtain protection or commit crimes.
There is evidence that old family values have broken down. At one time, most families taught their children that one should work hard to obtain what he or she wanted. Families tended to be close-knit groups and each family member had a responsibility to one another. The community children were taught to respect their elders and the law.
For many, the family has changed and so have beliefs in old values. Many of today’s children are brought up with little parental guidance. Often these children put their own gratification first, reject the idea that they have a responsibility to others, and distrust rather than respect authority. In such atmosphere, crime breeds.
Three government agencies deal with crime: the police, the courts and the corrections system. The police patrol the streets and engage in a number of other activities to prevent crime/ they also arrest persons whom they suspect of having committed crimes. The courts sentenced (set a punishment for) those who are convicted.
The corrections system receives the persons convicted by the courts. This system operates the prisons to which some offenders are sentenced. It also conducts programs designed to return convicted person to society.
The Liberian system of criminal justice does not work well, according to its critics. That is, the three branches – police, courts and corrections, do not work closely with one another toward a command goal.
As a result, our record in dealing with crime in Liberia is far from satisfactory. Consider the results: 1. Only about a small percent of all the crimes committed are reported to the police. 2. Of those crimes that are reported, fewer than one-quarter lead to an arrest. 3. Almost everyone sentenced to prison is eventually released. Nearly one-half of those released from prison are again arrested and convicted.
On the one hand, one must ask whether the criminal justice system should be expected to solve the drug and crime problem that exists in Liberia today.
If your answer to this question is “yes,” then the system failed. On the other hand, if one believes that the criminal justice system cannot, on its own, solve this complex problem, then we may have a different view as to its effectiveness. Given that arrests, trials, sentencing and imprisonment will not end all crime, does our system deal most effectively with crime as it exists?
In trying to understand why people turn to crime, I discussed some of the contributing social and economic problems in our society today. Whatever the reason, it would appear from the large number of people in custody, that punishment alone will not eliminate crime.
If we wish to reduce the crime rate in Liberia, we might start by addressing these causes of crime.
Drugs are cited as a major reason for the increase in crime in Liberia. To reduce crime, therefore, it will be necessary to deal with our drug problem.
Poverty, unemployment, alienation, and the breakdown in morality are often cited as cause of crime. Reducing poverty and unemployment, making sure everyone has a stake in our society and strengthening our moral values is not an easy task. Any productive approach to reduce crime must eventually come to grips with the impact of these societal and economic problem and the need to strengthen our nation’s families and moral values.
In conclusion, though, we must emphasize that many people are in prison because they deserve to be. Some are individuals who assault, steal, and abuse others. Such persons should be punished; no one will deny that the laws should be enforced, that the punishment should stop the crime, and that there should be an end to the revolving door system of justice; criminals who go to prison are released, and then end up back in prison. Speedy and stiff justice will, it is expected, help reduce crime in Liberia.
Crime in Liberia is a serious problem, and the number of reported crimes has increased dramatically over the decades. Among the reasons given for the high crime rate are increased drug uses, increased number of guns, alienation, declining moral values, and poverty. Many proposals have been submitted to try to reduce the crime rate, among them improving the criminal justice system.
The law is important because it acts as a guideline to what is accepted in society. Without it, there would be conflicts between social groups and communities. It is pivotal that we follow them. The law allows for easy adoption to changes that occur in the society.