Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele has called for continued dialogue towards finding solutions to South Africa's high rate of incarceration and breaking the cycle of crime.
The Minister's call follows a two-day national colloquium in Johannesburg today and yesterday (19 and 20 November), hosted by the Department of Correctional Services, to discuss overcrowding in correctional centres, alternative sentencing as well as remand detention management. More than 170 representatives from government and civil society, including the portfolio committee and national council on correctional services, judges and magistrates, Wits Justice Project, the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster departments, Legal Aid South Africa, organisations working with inmates, Parole Boards, the Law Society of South Africa as well as former inmates, attended the colloquium.
Minister Ndebele said a clear roadmap was needed following the colloquium. "As the Department of Correctional Services, we will continue to interact with stakeholders in order to implement solutions to South Africa's high rate of incarceration and breaking the cycle of crime. By mid-2013, we must have a clear Roadmap so that we can all address the key corrections challenges in order to ensure a better country.
"The colloquium confirmed the old proverb: 'If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.' We want to deliver correctional services with integrity and commitment to excellence. Key factors towards achieving this include innovation, communication and consultation. Participants at the colloquium agreed there was a need to look at things differently; not to assume the way things had always been done was the correct way. It was emphasised that increased communication between participants, and consultation on issues affecting the inmate population, will lead to innovation. We will henceforth go far together," said the Minister.
The wide variety of participants at the colloquium allowed for high quality inputs from many angles on various issues affecting correctional services, as well as innovative ideas on how to address them. Recommendations ranged from suggested amendments to the law, review of operational issues and changes in attitude of all involved in the detention of South Africa's inmate population.
Examples were provided of successful interventions in other countries which led to massive reductions in levels of remand detainees, such as the deployment of paralegals. In Malawi, for instance, such a system was implemented and contributed to a reduction of the remand population from 45% of the overall population to only about 17%.
Recommendations that may be implemented immediately include communication to Legal Aid South Africa, with regards to their clients who remain in centres despite having been granted bail. This will lead to an earlier application for the amendment of bail conditions, rather than a discovery only at the next court appearance that the inmate remains detained.
During discussions on the White Paper on Remand Detention, substantial input was provided which will be considered by the Correctional Services Department. It was made clear that the White Paper must become a living document which is implemented, and beneficial to not only Correctional Officials but also inmates and stakeholders.
Relationships were also established amongst participants that will lead to long-term partnerships. Both in the panel discussions, and the in-depth discussions held during the breakaway sessions, potential longer term interventions were identified. One such intervention is to distinguish in law between serious crimes and crimes which do not warrant incarceration. All the recommendations will be compiled and assessed for implementation by the Department of Correctional Services.