The case study (N = 54) examined the participants’ biographical attributes (age, type of offenses committed, education, marriage, employment, marital status of parents, repeat offenses, and district of residence) in relation to criminality. Theft and drug-related offenses were first and second top crimes. Youths aged 18-29 were more involved in stealing and rape than older peers. An equal number of theft offenders were employed and unemployed prior to incarceration suggesting common underlying causes for stealing such as low education and low income (or poverty). Elderly offenders (aged 30-40) were most engaged in drug offenses, incest and adultery compared to younger counterparts. Most of the crimes were committed in Brunei-Muara districtKey words: Prison, Inmates, Biodata, Crimes, Re-offending, Reintegration, Brunei
The World Prison Population List (2011) list showed that the number of inmates in the whole world was increasing causing governments a lot of money. In the south-central Asian countries, the survey showed that the median rate of imprisonment was 42 while in the rest of Asian countries it was 155.5. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, UNODC (2008), described the percentage of prisoners with drug problems as ranging from 40% to 80%. Theft cases stood at the highest peak in the whole world with 17.7 million people aged 16 and above being involved in stealing.
Theft, drug and substance use crimes
Stealing was the biggest crime in the world. The Bureau of Justice Statistics Survey (2014) showed that 7% (about 17.6 million persons aged 16 and above in the US) were victims of at least an incident of theft. The transportation hubs were the main places where robbers were most active. The same report (Bureau of Justice Statistics Survey, 2014) also mentions drug and substance use as the second most prevalent offense in America.
Post-release re-entry and reintegration programs
Ex-prisoners face a litany of problems including stigma and discrimination due to criminal record. They face rejections from the community, families and some even lose their parental rights (all factors that lead to repeat offending or recidivism). In view of this, different post-release reentry and reintegration programs have been tried to help out (see Travis et al, 2001; Rakis, 2005). Visher (2006) argues that there is no consensus as to whether this support program for the ex-offenders is effective in implementing reintegration and curbing the recidivism rate. Although it was difficult to measure the impact of specific interventions facilitating the offenders’ reintegration, there was need to increase emphasis on promoting an effective aftercare treatment for prisoners. The Intensive After Care Program, IAP (Altschulers, Amrstong, and MacKenzie, 1999) was one of the programs designed to help reintegrate high-risk young offenders after release. However, Weibush et al. (2005) found that the recidivism rate in the 12 months follow-up period did not differ significantly between the IAP treatment and control groups of youths. The serious and violent offender re-entry initiative was another example of an intervention program that was tried. According to Lattimore (2007) this collaborative and multiagency project enabled the juviniles and adults to go back to the society. It outlined the needs for the ex-prisoners in relation to employment, housing, health, education and self-sufficiency. The effectiveness of this program has not yet been determined.
Objectives of the study
The case study was carried out to describe the offender and offense characteristics of Brunei youth and adult inmates in the sample. Research on Brunei criminal population is still rare in major journals. It is hoped that the present study will contribute to narrowing the literature gap on this matter. Specifically, the study addressed the following seven research objectives:
(a) To identify the most prevalent crimes committed by the participants;
(b) To identify the rate of recidivism in the participants;
(c) To identify the association of (un)employment, if any, to offending;
(d) To determine the connections, if any, of parental marital status to offending;
(e) To determine the links, if any, between the inmates’ marital status and offending;
(f) To determine if the participants’ level of education had implications on offending; and
(g) To determine the country’s administrative district with the largest crime rate.
The design, participants, materials, procedures and data analysis components of the current study are briefly and separately explained below.
The case study design was preferred and used because the research involved a small sample (n = 54) from only one of the three prisons in the country. In view of this, the results were only generalized to the participating inmates and prison (and not to all offenders and prisons in the country).
A total of 54 convicts chosen by the simple random selection approach from one of the three prisons voluntarily participated in the case study with full consent. Of these, six were females. All the participants were Bruneian by nationality.
An 8-item demographic questionnaire constructed by the researcher was administered verbally to participants individually by a trained prison official via interview to collect biodata pertaining to each inmate’s gender, age, educational level, type of crime they committed, marital status, employment background prior to incarceration, repeat offending rate (recidivism), and marital status of the inmate’s parents. With the help of a prison official (trained for purposes of this research), the offenders’ verbal interview responses were compared to information extracted from the inmates’ prison records to authenticate the data. To ensure further reliability of the data, the prison official interviewed the inmate whenever and wherever the prison document did not have clear required information on the participant. Furthermore, all the data were collected within the prison premises to maximize the study’s ecological validity.
The present study was supported by the Centre for Advanced Research (CARe) at the University of Brunei Darussalam (UBD), Grant No. UBD/PNC2/RG/1(232). The University of Brunei Darussalam Ethics Committee approved the study while the Prisons Department in the Government of Brunei Darussalam granted permission to collect the data on inmate participants. All the participants signed a consent form.
The data were analyzed by simple descriptive statistics (frequencies and percentages) using the crosstabulation function in the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences, SPSS version 22.
Five major categories of broad crimes committed by the participants emerged from data analyses and are separately explained briefly below.
Theft, burglary and defrauding were the major offenses committed by the participants in the stealing category that accounted for 57.4% (n = 31) of the all the crimes in the present study. As the biggest crime, stealing was prevalent across all the four age-groups with younger inmates (aged 18-29) being more engaged in it than their older counterparts (aged 30-40). Due to lack of research, the preventative effects of the Shariah law introduced in Brunei in 2013 are not yet known.
Drug and substance abuse stood out as the second largest committed crime by the sample (13%, n = 7) despite the existence and enforcement of death penalty law for those found involved with drugs. The growing of drug plants, drug abusing, and drug trafficking were the key drug offenses in the current study most predominant in the highest age-group (36-40, 5%, n = 5).
Violence in the present study was characterized by aggression, fighting and arson. Approximated at 11.1% (n = 6) of the total offenses, it was the third most committed crime after stealing and drug and substance abuse. Youths aged of 18-23 were lesser involved in violence at 1.9% (n = 1) of total prisoners. Punishments for violent behavior (except murder) are not as brutal as those of drugs and stealing.
Sex offenses (fourth largest crime in the sample) included rape, incest and adulterly and accounted for 9.3% (n = 5) of the total number of crimes. The youth aged 18-23 (n = 2) contributed 3.7% of the sex-related offenses mainly rape. However, adult inmates aged 36-40 (n = 3) had the highest number of sex offenses (5.6%) mostly incest and adulterly.
Deceptive offenses included conning, forgery, corruption, scamming and gambling and were at 9.3% (n =5) of prevalence. Adults aged 36-40 were most involved in deception at 5.6% (n = 3). In Brunei, heavy punishments are imposed on those found involved in corrupt practices.
In the present study, recidivism referred to repeat offending. The details in the prison documents consulted for this study did not specify whether the inmate perpetrated the same offense or not. Overall, there was nearly an equal number of repeaters (25, 46.3%) and non-repeaters (29, 53.7%). This pattern was exemplified at each age-group. The trend raises questions on the effectiveness of in-prison counselling and community re-integration programs and services. The younger inmates aged 18-29 were more likely to re-offend than older inmates aged 30-40.
Employment status prior to imprisonment
Overall, more inmates (49, 90.7%) were employed prior to incarceration compared to those who were unemployed (5, 9.3%). This finding suggested that unemployment was not a direct contributing factor to theft in Brunei. The possible causes of stealing were probably low salaries or incomes and the need to support a large family. Future research needs to investigate these two plausible factors.
Marital status of the offenders’ parents
In this study, the marital status of the offenders’ parents was classified into two categories namely, married and not married. The later category included divorced, windowed, and separated parents. Like elsewhere in the world, people in Brunei generally believe that offenders come from family backgrounds that are not firmly intact. However, findings from the present survey dispelled this notion or belief and showed that nearly an equal number of inmates with married parents (28, 51.9%) and those without married parents (26 or 48.1%) offended. This implied that what mattered much with regard to offending was not the marital status of inmates’ parents but rather the effectiveness of the parenting style.
Inmates’ marital status
Taken as a whole sample, singles (30 or 55.6%) outnumbered the married peers (24, 44.4%). The singles were also overrepresented in the 24-29 age-group. It appears that marriage was not a strong deterant to offending. Since the biggest offense was theft, married offenders probably stole to support the family. This possibility needs to be investigated in future research.
More offenders had secondary education but possibly lacked better high paid jobs. This may have contributed to an increase in the number of stealing, drug trafficking, gambling, and spamming offenses. Inmates who had secondary education were 79.2% (n =42) while those who had primary education were 20.8% (n =11) dispelling the public notion that offending was done mainly by the poor with low education.
District of residence
Bandar Seri Begawan, the biggest town and capital city of Brunei Darussalam (located in Brunei-Muara district) has more people than towns in the other three districts of the country. Being a cosmopolitan district with the highest population, Brunei-Muara district had the highest number of crimes in the Sultanate (68.4%, n = 35).
According to the present survey, the greatest crime in Brunei is theft. Brunei needs to highlight this problem and advocate strong proactive prevention measures to contain it. Youths were more prone to stealing than adults as found and evidenced in the present study. For jobless youths who steal, this could be as a result of unemployment since Brunei faces a small 2.6% unemployment rate according to The World Fact Book (2018). This unemployment may be artificial as it may be caused by possession of low education and lack of training (Sinfield, 1981). According to Koo (2013), among the unemployed locals in any country, the majority are those with secondary and primary qualifications. People who endure long-term unemployment often become alienated and eventually stop trying to find a job (Petersilia, 2004). With this state of mindset, youths become prone to be involved in stealing or theft activities. According to Bostyn and Wight (1987), financial difficulties, as a result of being jobless due to lacking the required employment qualifications, lead to a rise in antisocial issues and problems.
On the other hand, most of the participants in the current study were employed prior to imprisonment. This could be related to low jobs and incomes which in turn may be attributed low education. Employee theft is the most common form of crime in business and most of this theft is a result of job dissatisfaction as stated by Hollinger and Clark (1983). Dissatisfaction may also be due to low income status in which the employee steals to reduce what she / he erroneously perceives as debt from the employer (Greenberg,1997).
Recidivism was a big problem among Brunei participants in the present study. The high general recidivism rate cast doubts on the effectiveness of the counselling efforts during incarcelation and after release. According to Lane et al (2005) there was also high recidivism rates in prison samples of other countries too. In Brunei, reintegration programs need to be improved to be effective. Provision of appropriate training and jobs would contribute significantly to the credibility of the programs (Harrison & Schehr, 2004)
The marital status of the inmates as well as that of their parents were both found to have no preventative effects on criminal behavior and lifestyle in the present study. Developmental psychologists (such as McCord, Widom & Crowell, 2001) are of the view that disruptive behaviors, which start early in life, often lead to serious crimes during childhood, adolescence and adulthood stages. Piquero, Farrington and Blumstein (2003) suggest that this big bond and linkage needs to be prevented or broken early.
The case study described inmates in terms of selected demographic variables such as age, education, marriage, employment, marital status of parents, type of offenses committed, repeat offenses and district of residence. To reduce crimes in the country, Brunei ought to adopt multiple preventative and intervention approaches that are realistic and in combination. Out-of-prison intervention programs in Brunei need to effectively address problems associated with stigma. Many ex-inmates are rejected due to the stigma they carry. The programs will need adequate government support to ensure they are effective and credible. Further mixed method research is called for to inform policy decisions and intervention efforts. In particular, findings on drug use, recidivism, violence, and incest suggest the need for mental health screening of inmates concerned. Mental health issues need to be investigated in future large-scale mixed-methods research that includes interview probes.
The present study faced one main limitation. It was largely a qualitative review, analysis and description of demographic data recorded in existing prison documents. In-depth individual interviews with inmates would have yielded more information and detailed findings. However, this case study may act and serve as sensitizing material for more research on the issue.
UBD – University of Brunei Darussalam
SHBIE – Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Institute of Education
SPSS - Statistical Package for Social Sciences
The study was supported by the Centre for Advanced Research (CARe) at the University of Brunei Darussalam, [Grant No. UBD/PNC2/RG/1(232)]
Conflict of interests
The author declares no competing interests
Ethics approval and consent to participate
The study was approved by the University of Brunei Darussalam Ethics Committee. In addition, each respondent gave both a verbal consent and written agreement for participating in the study.
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