Saint Kitts and Nevis Country Profile


Key Statistics

Population: 54,190 thousand (World Bank, 2013)

Capital: Basseterre

Official Languages: English

Major Ethnic Groups: predominantly black; some British, Portuguese, and Lebanese

GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 13,698 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 16,395 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Forces: an estimated 150

Military Expenditure: n/a

Executive Summary

The small twin-island state of Saint Kitts and Nevis[1] (hereafter St. Kitts and Nevis) has suffered from rising violence over the past decade and registered a record number of homicides in 2011 when the country was one of the most violent in the world. Most of the violence is gang and drug-related, as local street gangs fight each other for territorial control and a share of the domestic drug market.

The judicial system is largely seen as efficient and able to cope with cases in a timely and professional manner. However, the country’s prison facilities are overcrowded and conditions are poor. Corruption in the police force is not a serious concern but there have been a concerning number of incidents of police abuse in recent years. Exacerbating this problem is a lack of civilian oversight of the force and the fact that investigations of suspect officers are handled in-house.

Efforts can be made to help improve prison conditions by pushing forward a government proposal to build a new jail which seems to have largely stalled. Furthermore, helping in the creation of an independent Police Complaints Commission to ensure the police force is accountable is advised.

Security and Justice Context

St. Kitts and Nevis has seen its homicide rate rise dramatically since 2001 when just 6 murders were registered for the year. This figure climbed to a record of 34 homicides in 2011, giving the country a murder rate of 67.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in the world. The government seemingly managed to bring this under control in 2012 when the rate almost halved to 35.5 per 100,000[2] (See Figure 1.).


Fig. 1 St. Kitts Homicide Rate 2001-2012

In addition to the homicide rate falling, the government announced in early 2013 that overall crime in 2012 had dropped 53 percent compared to 2011. No detailed figures were released to support this.

The islands serve as a transhipment point in the transnational drug trade, with St. Kitts and Nevis police stating in 2012 that they had seen an increase in cocaine trafficking over the preceding three years. However, its role is minor compared to that of other Caribbean nations such as the Dominican Republic and Jamaica. There is little to no registered presence of transnational criminal organisations in the country.

St. Kitts and Nevis produces marijuana which is sold primarily to the domestic market. According to the government, around 90 percent of drug users on the islands use marijuana with the remaining 10 percent using cocaine or its derivatives. 

Driving the majority of violence in the country are street gangs which fight each other predominantly for the control of the domestic drug trade and for territory, or “turf.” According to media reports, most of the 34 homicides in 2011 were drug-related. As well as the local drug market, the gangs engage in petty street crime and robberies, and to a lesser extent extortion.

Gangs in the country are not organised like powerful Central American street gangs such as the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18. They typically identify one another through colours worn by their members; for example, members of the Bloods[3] wear red, members of the Black Knights wear black and those from the Brown Street gang use the colour brown.

According to data collected by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the use of firearms in homicides rose from 2004-2010 from 63.6 percent of murders where guns were used to 85 percent. The global average is 42 percent.

The rising rate of gun-related crime points to the presence of illegally obtained firearms circulating the country. An interview with one former gang member revealed that guns normally come from neighbouring islands, though this does not necessarily indicate that other Caribbean nations are the principal source since many simply serve as transit points themselves in the regional arms trade.

No official estimates are available for the amount of illicit firearms in St. Kitts and Nevis. The Association of Caribbean Commissioners of Police (ACCP)[4] has estimated that there are some 1.6 million illegal weapons circulating in the whole Caribbean.

Perceptions of Insecurity

There is no available data on perceptions of insecurity among St. Kitts and Nevis citizens.

Security and Justice Institutions

Justice Institutions

As a result of its colonial history, St. Kitts and Nevis’ judicial system is based in part on British common law practice. The judiciary is independent and the country operates an accusatorial legal system.

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court[5] (ECSC) administers the country’s judicial system and assigns two judges and one Master[6] to reside in St. Kitts and Nevis and hear cases from the country’s courts system. Within St. Kitts and Nevis is a High Court which sits in the capital, Basseterre, and local Magistrates’ Courts which handle minor criminal and civil cases.

Appeals going beyond the High Court can be sent to the ECSC Court of Appeal[7] . Although St. Kitts and Nevis is a signatory to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), inaugurated in 2005 as the judicial institution of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM)[8] , final appellate jurisdiction rests with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) in the United Kingdom.

There are no military courts.

The attorney general is the government’s legal advisor and also a member of cabinet, serving as the Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs. The principal prosecution authority is the National Prosecution Service and is headed by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).

There is an Office of the Ombudsman which hears public complaints against the government for alleged injustices. It was established in 2009 following the 2006 Ombudsman Act. The Governor General elects the country’s Ombudsman.

According to the US State Department, the government generally observed the constitutional right for citizens to have a fair, public and speedy trial. Corruption and inefficiency do not appear to be major problems within the courts system. However, as the US-based NGO Freedom House noted, the intimidation of witnesses and jurors is a concern.

The penitentiary system consists of the main prison in Basseterre and a prison farm[9] for around 30 inmates on the island of Nevis. Facilities are managed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Homeland Security, Immigration and Labour. Prisons are overcrowded, running at around 160 percent capacity and conditions are poor largely as a result of the “austere” facilities, according to the US State Department. Around 30 percent of inmates are pre-trial detainees and prisoners on remand. Pre-trial detainees are occasionally housed with convicted criminals.

Security Institutions

The Royal St. Christopher and Nevis Police Force (RSCNPF) is the principal body charged with providing law enforcement.  The force has approximately 450 officers and reports to the Anti-Crime Unit which is housed in the Office of the Prime Minister.

There are concerns that police officers sometimes carry out arrests without first gathering sufficient evidence against the suspect. In addition, the police have been accused of using excessive force. The US State Department notes that this has led citizens to become hesitant when reporting crimes due to the way with which police sometimes carry out their duties. Complaints regarding police abuse are normally made directly to the police force with senior officers investigating the accused.

The police commissioner announced in February 2012 that the police would no longer release raw data for crime statistics, stating that instead they would release summaries of the trend in crime rates. This raises concerns about transparency. 

The St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force (SKNDF) reports to the Anti-Crime Unit and is comprised of around 300 personnel split between the army and the Coast Guard. Its primary responsibility is external security though it can be called on by the Governor General to carry out joint patrols with the police for up to six months. The force has the power to conduct stop and search operations without a warrant.

St. Kitts and Nevis is a part of the Regional Security System (RSS) which seeks to promote cooperation between its members[10] in the Eastern Caribbean in drug interdiction efforts and maritime policing, among other areas.

At the time of writing, there was no publically available long-term national development or security plan for St. Kitts and Nevis. The most recent strategy concerned with security was the Policing Action Plan which ran from 2009 to 2011 and had the aims, among others, to improve crime prevention, detection and prosecution, increase public awareness in assisting crime prevention initiatives, and to promote improved ties between the police and communities.

State of Security and Justice Sector Reform

Justice Sector Reform and Initiatives

The National Prosecution Service was launched in 2012 and ensures that police prosecutors are now overseen and directed by the DPP. Prior to the establishment of the National Prosecution Service, the majority of the prosecution proceedings within the Magistrates’ Courts were carried out by police prosecutors without the supervision of the DPP.

Bringing police prosecutors under the DPP works to consolidate prosecution efforts and ensure that police who carry out the investigation do not subsequently handle the prosecution as well. Furthermore, the creation of the National Prosecution Service goes some way toward improving efficiency, improving inter-agency cooperation and streamlining prosecution proceedings.

In conjunction with the creation of the Service, a new Prosecution Code was established having been developed with the help of the British High Commission and the Eastern Caribbean Judicial Advisor. This standardises the guidelines prosecutors must follow when pursuing a prosecution.

The prime minister has publically stated in recent years that the building of a new prison is a priority in order to address the problems of overcrowding and to provide better rehabilitation services for inmates. At the time of writing, however, little progress appears to have been made on this initiative.

Security Sector Reform and Initiatives

In response to escalating gang-related violence the National Assembly passed the Gang (Prohibition and Prevention) Act in September 2011 which allows for lengthy sentences to be handed down to anyone found guilty of forming, attempting to form, or being a member of a gang, among other crimes. These three crimes in particular carry a sentence of up to 10 years. Other crimes have a maximum 25 year sentence. The Act also affords police the power to arrest without a warrant people they suspect of being gang members.

An initiative was introduced in 2012 to create a Police Complaints Commission with draft legislation sent to parliament in April of that year. The bill outlines that the commission would be comprised of “persons of integrity in the community,” at least one attorney with 10 years professional experience and at least one retired police officer who previously held the rank of Superintendent or above. The commission would be independent and able to carry out full investigations into allegations of police misconduct. At the time of writing, the bill was still in the legislature.

In 2011, the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (CARICOM IMPACS) adopted the Declaration on Small Arms and Light Weapons, a regional initiative aimed at reducing gun crime in the region and improving regional cooperation in the field of arms trafficking.

Under the Caribbean Basin Security Initiative (CBSI), a US government-funded program, the government of St. Kitts and Nevis has received help in training the country’s security forces, aid in the form of counter-narcotics equipment, and aid for workforce training programmes for at-risk youth, thus helping reduce the likelihood they will turn to crime. The CBSI has also provided assistance in the implementation of a modern criminal code and a code of conduct for prosecutors.

Parliamentary/Congressional Capacity for Oversight

The National Assembly is unicameral and constitutionally independent. It is comprised of 15 members—11 of whom are Representatives elected by the public—and is responsible for making and passing laws. The prime minister and his/her cabinet are responsible to the Assembly.

The National Assembly has the authority to form oversight committees to scrutinise and review government policy. These have operated in a transparent manner in the past and in consultation with the public.

Security and Justice Opportunities

While the number of overall homicides may not seem alarming, St. Kitts and Nevis is facing a rather serious security problem in the form of its street gangs which are the primary drivers of violence. The government has made advances in bringing down the homicide rate in 2012, although it is uncertain if these gains will be solidified given the inconsistency in homicide numbers in recent years; for example, 2010 saw a fall in murders and was then followed by a record year.

Reports of government corruption are fairly isolated. This provides a reasonably safe environment for engagement on security and justice reform issues.

Justice Sector Opportunities

The creation of the National Prosecution Service and Prosecution Code are welcome since it provides professional legal oversight of police prosecutors and helps ensure that legal professionals act uniformly and based on a set of codified standards. Given these developments, and the general state of the justice system in St. Kitts and Nevis, there appear to be no pressing issues that need addressing in the judicial system.

Efforts can be made to help push the building of a new prison forward. Conditions at present in the main prison are inadequate and overcrowding is a serious concern. At present, the lack of movement on this issue appears to be related to financing rather than political will.

Security Sector Opportunities

While the 2011 Gang Act may have contributed to decreasing gang violence the following year, its punitive measures may prove detrimental in the long term, particularly in the form of driving up an inmate population that currently exceeds capacity. The policy does not seem to be as severe as the “iron fist” (“manodura”)[11] policies installed in certain Central American countries whereby suspected gang members can be detained on the basis of their appearance. However, it is at present unclear as to whether low-level gang members who may be arrested on the presumption of gang affiliation may be handed a 10-year sentence. Efforts could be made to safeguard against this.

The initiative to create a Police Complaints Commission is particularly welcome given the incidence of police abuse in the country and lack of sufficient recourse for victims under the current options for complaints. Engagement with the Office of the Prime Minister is advised—the bill was put before parliament by the prime minister—to see that this initiative is moved forward and the commission, if created, is truly independent.

It is unclear whether the police will continue to withhold raw data on crime. If this is the case, efforts should be made to bring about a reversal on this issue. Continuing to withhold statistics could foster distrust toward the police force and is detrimental to creating a fully transparent institution.

Civil Society Actors to Engage With

Operation Future[12] is a non-profit organisation created in 2005 by members of the police force. It aims to address crime and violence, particularly the issue of youth-involvement in gangs. This is done through education initiatives in schools, churches and communities to increase awareness of violence and gang culture in St. Kitts and Nevis.

The Ripple Institute SKN (TRI) is an NGO dedicated to social development in St. Kitts and Nevis and has become more focused on organising programmes focused on violence reduction in recent years. It also organises and works in partnership with local NGOs and civil society groups.

The Coalition of Support for St. Kitts-Nevis Security Initiatives (CSSKNSI) is a public/private partnership that brings together various organisations to support government security initiatives. In recent years it has provided equipment and technology to the police force in an attempt to improve security on the islands.


Government of Saint Kitts and Nevis, “Policing Action Plan 2009-2011,” January 2009

Freedom House, “Freedom in the World 2012–St. Kitts and Nevis,” August 2012

Red de Seguridad y Defensa de América Latina, “Atlas Comparativo de la Defensa en América Latina y Caribe Edición 2012,” October 2012

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “Homicide Statistics 2012,” Data set retrieved from

U.S. Department of State, “2012 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume 1: Drug and Chemical Control,” March 2012

U.S. Department of State, “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2011,” May 2012


[1] The country’s full name is the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis. It is commonly referred to as the Federation.

[2] This figure is based on homicide statistics released up until December 27, 2012. A final number for 2012 was not available at the time of writing.

[3]  The Bloods gang in St. Kitts and Nevis appears to style themselves after their namesake in the United States. There is no connection other than this, however. As in the United States, there was a rival Crips gang who identified themselves by wearing blue. This subsequently splintered into two groups—Tek Life and Killer Man Squad—who are reportedly now rivals.

[4] The ACCP has a membership of 24 Caribbean nations and is designed to facilitate cooperation between the region’s police forces and help with the development of officers’ technical skills and professionalism. 

[5] The ECSC is the superior court for the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) members. This includes six independent states and British Overseas Territories. The ECS is headquartered in Saint Lucia.

[6] A Master of the Supreme Court exercises the authority and jurisdiction a judge.

[7] The Court of Appeal moves about the OECS when it is required.

[8]  CARICOM is an organisation comprised of 15 nations and aims to promote economic integration and cooperation between its member states.

[9] The prison farm houses inmates who are soon to be released and who do not pose a security risk.

[10] The 1996 treaty creating the RSS was signed by Saint Lucia, St. Kitts & Nevis, Grenada, Barbados, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Antigua and Barbuda.

[11] This policy is largely seen as having contributed to severe prison overcrowding in countries such as Honduras and El Salvador.

[12] More information on their website:

Igarapé Institute

The Igarapé Institute is a southern think tank devoted to evidence-based policy and action on complex social challenges including global drug policy, citizen security and international cooperation. Its goal is to stimulate humane engagement on emerging security and development issues. Across all its programs, the Institute adopts a three-prong approach:

  1. Diagnose challenges through cutting-edge research;
  2. Trigger informed debate and action across public and private spheres; and
  3. Design tailor-made solutions that are people-centered.

The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.