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Offenders to give back to communities

Written by Amukelani Chauke
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha says efforts by correctional services facilities to make a positive contribution to community development are progressing well.

Offenders will be involved in a number of community projects.Each correctional centre will adopt a community to share the expertise in food production it has developed over the years.

According to Minister Masutha, thousands of offenders are involved in community infrastructure and food production projects that seek to plough back, provide some form of reparation for their crime, and strengthen the interface with victims, families, communities and various stakeholders.

He said these would include:

  • community food gardens for old age homes and poverty-stricken communities
  • the cleaning and maintenance of public and community infrastructure such as community halls, schools (with over 300 adopted by correctional centres for ongoing support), graveyards, churches, state hospitals, old age homes, day care centres and institutions for abused women and children
  • contributing to building houses and providing furniture for victims of crime and destitute families in partnership with other stakeholders.
Bringing courts closer to the people, arresting long queues

Minister Masutha said access to justice for all means bringing courts closer to the people.

He said the justice department was working on a model that would see people no longer travelling long distances to access court houses. “The Department has embarked on a process of realigning magisterial districts with municipal boundaries so that communities can access justice services in areas where they live.

“The project was successfully implemented in Gauteng and the North West in December 2014 and will be rolled out to Limpopo and Mpumalanga later this year”.

Government will continue building courts on the outskirts of towns and cities as well as in rural villages to expand justice services to previously marginalised communities.

“We hope to maintain the norm of building on average two new courts per year so that we can reduce the backlog of court infrastructure in many parts of the country.

“During 2015, we will proudly open the doors of the first High Court in Limpopo and a high court in Mpumalanga will follow in 2016,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Minister said that the department was improving the maintenance system to reduce long queues and ensure that rightful beneficiaries received their money in time and directly in their bank accounts.

He said that more maintenance beneficiaries were using the electronic fund transfer (EFT) facility. This means that their money is paid directly into their bank accounts.

“In the financial year 2014/15, a total of R1,97 billion was paid to maintenance beneficiaries through the EFT.

“In addition, we have tabled the Maintenance Amendment Bill before Parliament to deal decisively with maintenance defaulters,” he said. 

Minister to launch Operation Hira/Qasha/Thapa/Thola

Minister Masutha said that during his walkabout in correctional services centres, he had noticed ineffective recruitment methods.

As a result, he planned to launch a four-month recruitment drive with the aim of:

  • building partnerships with academic institutions, sector training authorities (SETAs), other state organs and professional bodies for heightened collaboration in accessing databases of qualified people with scarce skills
  • each regional commissioner and branch head would be expected to sign a performance agreement to reduce their vacancy rate by at least 80 per cent
  • recruiting 3 096 unemployed youth for the learnership training programme at justice colleges to contribute to fighting youth unemployment and building hope and trust in a better South Africa
  • organising a series of Job Fairs across the country, to expose the unemployed youth to career opportunities within Correctional Services.

The Department exceeded its target of training officials by 48 per cent, going from 16 500 to 24 548. We will train a further 18 000 officials this financial year, the Minister said.

Minor offenders’ criminal records might go

Meanwhile, Minister Masutha wants to give former offenders a second chance in life. 

Speaking ahead of the department’s Budget Vote speech recently, Minister Masutha announced that the department intends to amend a section of the Criminal Procedures Act to remove offenders’ criminal records. The Minister said he would hold a national consultative conference this year to talk about a possible amendment to the Act to give offenders, who committed minor crimes, a second chance.

“Given that the 2008 amendment to the Criminal Procedure Act, which came into effect in May 2009, has effectively seen its sixth year this month, it is perhaps time to open dialogue on possible further amendments. “Our focus will remain on those who committed minor and non-violent crimes. The idea is not to compromise public safety, but to enhance it,” the Minister said and added that Correctional Services remains an integral part of the criminal justice system.

“A cardinal indicator of success when correcting offending behaviour and rehabilitating offenders is their successful and sustainable reintegration into their communities. 

“In numerous interactions with former offenders, who have remained law abiding citizens for years, the matter of criminal records and their detrimental effect on successful social reintegration has consistently been raised,” he said.

The Minister said the consultative conference was part of difficult policy discussions in which society needed to participate.

Currently, erasing criminal records can happen in various ways, one of which is a Presidential pardon. However, this can take up to 10 years to happen.

“The real issue is whether we can find a way to do this that’s quicker than ten years because it’s a long time in the life of a young person.

“It is obviously a sensitive matter because on the one hand society may feel it needs to be protected from someone who has had a brush with the law and is being unleashed into the community.

“We can’t deny people the opportunity to be reintegrated back into the community because you are then actually undermining your own programmes to restore the positive side of their humanity,” he said.

To advance the department’s focus on crime prevention, correctional services will adopt a community and share its expertise in food production with them. “We will teach communities modern and advanced models of food production and expose unemployed youth to technical skills, such as furniture making, motor vehicle repairs and construction,” he said.

More good news for the department
  • year, the department has increased its intake of young graduates into its learnership programme to 800 in a bid to impart skills to young graduates and thereby enhance their opportunities for employment.
  • During 2014/2015, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) achieved a 91 per cent conviction rate in the High Courts, 76,6 per cent in Regional Courts and 94,2 per cent in the district courts. Conviction rates for sexual offences and complex commercial crimes stood at 69 and 94,3 per cent respectively. A conviction rate of 95 per cent was achieved in respect of cybercrime.
  • The Electronic Monitoring System (EMS), which was launched in July 2014, marked another milestone in the modernisation of correctional services. Since its rollout, 1 009 people have been tagged with 604 persons currently being monitored by this system. The EMS has enabled the department to effectively track an offender, or an awaiting trial person effectively at all times. During 2015/16 , at least 1 000 people are to be tagged at any given time. 

 

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