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The price of –non-intervention

Blaming society for criminal behaviour has become such a cliché that many people simply disregard it when trying to understand why people commit serious crimes. But the letter written by campaigner Sheelagh Cooper on behalf of Noet Barnett gives vast amounts of evidence in this case that society must take at least some of the blame.

And it also helps to show how Bermuda can move away from gang violence and the serious crime that plagues too many of Bermuda’s neighbourhoods. As Ms Cooper noted, Noet Barnett’s problems started virtually at birth when his name was incorrectly spelled on his birth certificate as Noet, when it should have been Noel. As things turned out, that was a virtual omen.

Noel Barnett’s father was murdered. His mother ended up in prison for drugs smuggling. His older sister, who became his main caregiver, was unable to cope when her partner was murdered. There’s more. Unsatisfactory living conditions, evictions, a life on the street. His severe reading disabilities went first undiagnosed and then were ignored. As a result, he was expelled at the age of 14. According to the court case, he has a mental age of around ten.

Having lost friends and relatives to gang violence, he tried to to shoot to death a member of a rival gang, who was also the father of his godchild. It might be fair to ask what chance he had. Even then, it is too much to say that he had nothing to do with his actions. Even with his disabilities, he must take some responsibility. But the fact is that he need not have ended up in Westgate today, looking at a 25-year prison sentence ahead of him. At many points in his young life, an intervention could have diverted Noel Barnett on to a better path.

There is no way of saying what path, or that he could somehow be perfect. Like all of us, he would have flaws. But he need not have been convicted of attempted murder, and he need not have put himself in prison. It’s not too late for Noel Barnett. He needs to be given the help he needs to become a functioning member of society. And it’s not too late for today’s children, who like Noel Barnett was, are clearly at risk, and who will follow a similar path to his if no one bothers to intervene.

As Mrs Cooper notes, the price of intervention now is much lower than the price of housing yet another prisoner will be in 15 or 20 years time.

Noet Barnett

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Published February 21, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 21, 2012 at 8:36 am)

The price of –non-intervention

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