SA's prison policies quizzed
With its prison population the highest in Africa and the third-highest in the world, South Africa's sentencing policies have come into question.
Correctional Services Minister S'bu Ndebele yesterday told parliament's prisons portfolio committee that the country had Africa's highest prison population.
With 146 000 people behind bars, experts are questioning whether South Africa is following the correct path in the incarceration of criminals.
Ndebele said that, of those behind bars, 53 000 - nearly 40% - were aged between 18 and 25. Of the 146 000, 55% were sentenced for aggressive crimes, 23% for economic offences, 16% for sexual offences, 5% for other crimes and 2% for drug-related activities.
About 40% are serving sentences of over 10 years, whereas 10000 have been sentenced to life imprisonment.
Women comprise 3% of the prison population.
"I have taken note of the composition and that 71% of offenders are incarcerated for violent crime. There is a need to strengthen and reinforce programmes to address aggressive crimes," he said.
Ndebele said that, of the total prison population, 46000 inmates were awaiting-trial prisoners.
He said the International Centre for Prison Studies showed that South Africa had Africa's biggest prison population, followed by Ethiopia (85000), and Egypt, Rwanda and Morocco with 60000 prisoners each.
"South Africa has an incarceration rate of 316 people per 100 000 of population, with the US and Russia having an incarceration rate of 743 and 568 per 100000 respectively," he said.
Ndebele said the country's high level of violent crime, and the idea that incarceration was the best form of deterrent, required debate.
"We must continue to create conditions conducive to rehabilitation. We have a responsibility to educate the public on the importance of rehabilitation," he said.
"Correctional centres [prisons] must be places where offenders face up to what they have done, engage with restorative justice processes, complete development programmes and return to communities with skills."
He said attention should be given to the better use of non-custodial sentences for offenders guilty of lesser crimes.
"We must focus on community corrections as a direct non-custodial sentence and convince the judiciary [that] this is a more appropriate sentence than incarceration for short-term offenders."
Unisa criminologist Rudolf Zinn said the number of youths in prison was alarming.
"It correlates with high unemployment among our youth. The possibility of this changing in the near future is unlikely, especially with the country's slow economic growth rate."
Institute of Security Studies researcher Chandre Gould said the Child Justice Act meant that children should be diverted from the criminal justice system. But, Gould added, there were problems with the act's implementation.