Speech by Winnie Ngwenya during the debate on the President’s State of the Nation Address in the National Assembly
12 February 2008
Honourable Ministers of Peace and Stability Cluster;
Honourable members of Parliament;
Members of Peace and Stability Cluster;
Permit me to start by saying that the ANC Conference resolution1 calls for a comprehensive remand system to be developed taking into account different circumstances that surrounds prisons involving individual cases regarding offence seriousness, age factor of the offender and use of non-imprisonment sentences. This resolution suggests better ways of dealing with offenders on remand by way of applying non-custodial measures. President Mbeki’s state of the Nation Address2 endorse these decisions when he state that: ’government will revamp the criminal justice system in its totality.’ This idea seeks better ways to strengthen corrections.
Awaiting Trial Detainees and overcrowding
Madam Speaker, we are aware of the systems in place in our correctional centres to reduce overcrowding. Prison population is one of the old challenges facing the correctional systems. A comprehensive remand system seems to attempt to address this challenge. Indeed, it must be noted that there is a significant number of awaiting trial detainees (ATD) in our correctional centres. The ATD’s seem to contribute to overcrowding. Comprehensive approaches to this challenge should individualise cases taking into account circumstances of each case.
It does suggest that persons who are awaiting trials could be diverted to care centres. This is to ensure that they are treated differently from the sentenced.3 Part of these measures requires bail conditions and practices not simply to reinforce incarceration regime. Bail conditions should be sensitive to those who can not afford bail. Some to the awaiting trial detainees are not supposed to be in prisons, if they can afford the bail. Another perception is that courts are not always sensitive enough in dealing with F62 bail application. There is a sense of rigidity in dealing with those who are still going to appear before them. This attitude lead to situation of different accused having to be on awaiting trial for a long time and sometimes for a minor charge. It is possible for offenders on remand or awaiting trials to attend hearings within correctional setting (circuit court) as a precautionary measure to prevent prison escapes during the movement between prison, courts and police stations.
It appears that community based corrections are in place headed by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) to reduce prison overcrowding and promote rehabilitation. Non-custodial forms of sentences need to be strengthened involving diversions and community corrections for petty cases. Persons under the age of 18 convicted of minor crimes should be transferred to reformatory school. This requires care centres and financial and human resources to ensure rehabilitation. The 2005 White Paper on Correctional Services4 endorses the partnership between government and civil society and inter-departmental relationship to promote effective social reintegration. This seeks to enhance community based programmes based on multi-disciplinary approaches. These involve:
- Effective supervision after release on parole
- Community corrections and
Communities and business sector must be sensitized to accept ex-offenders with their new skills acquired from prisons in order to be financially viable and be law abiding members of society.5 Social reintegration focuses on:
- Preparing prisoners for release
- Effective supervision after release on parole
- And the facilitation of social integration into communities
Supervision officers must render services in target of probationers and parolees. Social reintegration programme is regarded as the most relevant in the prevention of crime and rehabilitation of offenders. It appears as an alternative to incarceration as described in the ANC Polokwane resolutions.6 In some circles it is regarded as community corrections. Because its trust is on the involvement of community to effectively integrate ex-offender or early release or parolees back to community. As a consequence, social reintegration requires a lot of resources. It requires both:
- Human resource and
- Financial resource as well as
- Good infrastructure
Rehabilitation is completed only with the successful reintegration7 of offenders into the community in a manner which prevents recidivism. There are different circumstances that lead to the individual resorting to crime. Parole boards and probation programmes should be informed by this reality. There is a need for comprehensive approach to social reintegration. This involves:
- Civil society/ organisations
- And the church
Pre-release programmes are relevant and tend to promote reintegration of offenders into the family and community. They require community based support system. In this regard ANC branches should encourage community involvement in parole boards and corrections. Part of this involves ANC branches to mobilise community into anti-crime structures and promote awareness to reduce negative attitude towards the released offenders.
3. Community Safety Forums (CSF)
The ANC resolution8 calls for the establishment of Community Safety Forums with the view to monitor and coordinate the role of the criminal justice system. CSF seems to build and reduce some weaknesses engulfed Community Policing Forums (CPF) which mostly involves lack of funding and legislation directing their role.
Community Safety Forum seeks to promote integrated criminal justice system. It has to reinforce a kind of reciprocal relationship between community and the police to ensure accountability. It has to bring about greater coordination within peace and security cluster involving:
- Home Affairs
- Foreign Affairs
- Justice and
- Safety & Security
In this forum matters of corrections could focus on the detained persons and rehabilitation of the offenders. It will look at how best ex-offenders can be integrated and pay back to community through restorative justice. The ANC as noted in January 8th statement is right in reviewing the criminal justice system for better corrections and holistic approaches. It has to do so in line with the next ANC 5 year plan informed by the goals it has set for itself during the past election manifesto. The same approach has to be adhered to by way of mapping out the road to the 1999 national elections. No doubt there are great strides made in the field of correctional services and different approaches are being explored continuously. Indeed, emphasis on community participation in community corrections presents greater possible strengths. Thank you.
1. (2007) ANC 52nd National Conference, Polokwane.
3. See Bottomley, A. K. (1970) Prison before trial. A study of remand decisions in Magistrates courts.
4. Department of Correctional Services
5. See McWilliams, W. (1987:99) Probation, pragmatism and policy. (27) The Howard Journal, p. 97 – 121.
7. Shapiro, R. (1998:160) Responding to crime: Social Work and the criminal justice system. Cape Town: David Phillip.
8. See ANC 52nd National Conference, (2007) Polokwane.