Rising crime across the Caribbean threatens the region's tourism-based economy and has exposed a weak and ineffective judicial system, according to a sweeping U.N. study released on Wednesday.
Every Caribbean nation except Barbados and Suriname reported a spike in homicide rates and gang-related killings over the past 12 years even as violent crime has fallen or stabilized in most other places across the globe, according to the 2012 Caribbean Human Development Report.
The U.N. said it was the largest survey ever to focus on crime in the Caribbean.
U.N. officials singled out Jamaica and Trinidad for alarming levels of gang-related homicides that almost doubled from 2006 to 2009.
Jamaica has the world's third-highest murder rate, with about 60 murders per 100,000 inhabitants, while Trinidad reported a fivefold increase in its murder rate over the past decade and now has 36 killings per 100,000 people.
"The report challenges governments of the English and Dutch Caribbean to action," said Trinidad Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, adding that she supports the report's recommendations.
The Caribbean Community trade bloc found that gang-related crime costs member countries as much as 4 percent of their gross domestic product.
Jamaica loses $529 million a year, according to the report.
"Violence limits people's choices, threatens their physical integrity and disrupts their daily lives," said Helen Clark, the U.N. Development Program administrator who unveiled the report in Trinidad.
The report recommended that Caribbean nations reduce access to illegal firearms, create youth programs to prevent crime and provide jobs for the urban poor. Local governments also should ensure that law enforcement is accountable and more respectful of people's rights, the report said.
"The criminal justice system still faces challenges," according to the report, which cited delays, low conviction rates and prison overcrowding across the Caribbean.
"Caribbean correctional systems are far from being able to balance protection of the public against the need for efficiency and fiscal prudence," it said.
The report's recommendations are based partly on a survey of 11,555 people in seven countries: Antigua, Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Suriname and Trinidad.
Nearly half of those surveyed said they worried about being crime victims, and nearly 80 percent said they feel criminals should receive harsher punishments.