Minister shocked by number of young offenders

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Boksburg - A visit this week by Correctional Services officials to a correctional facility in Boksburg, opened up the reality of the number of youngsters swelling the country's already overcrowded prisons - many as young as 15-years-old and there for committing heinous crimes.

Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and her deputy
Hlengiwe Mkhize expressed shock over what they saw at the Boksburg Correctional Centre.

The Boksburg Correctional Centre houses, among others, 554 juveniles most of whom are maximum offenders, serving up to 250 years in addition to two life sentences for very serious crimes, including murder, rape and armed robbery.

Various Area Commissioners told the minister that of about 16 000 awaiting trial detainees in the Gauteng Region, only 3 000 had received bail, demonstrating the seriousness of the offences they had committed.

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said the visit had awakened her to the reality of South African society that produces the calibre of young people who committed serious crimes.

She said the magnitude of the problem was beyond Correctional Services alone and it "requires the whole society to take responsibility for corrections".

The minister emphasised the need for all stakeholders to work closely and pool their resources together in order to speed up the fight against crime.

Regarding the problem of overcrowding in South African correctional centres, the minister said the department was working closely with strategic partners in the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security cluster.

The Department of Correctional Services is also adopting international best practices to address the issues of overcrowding.

One measure the minister said was the greater use of non-custodial sentencing options for all offenders who do not pose a threat to society. She cited Qalakabusha correctional centre as an example, where the management has established a task team focusing on the management of people charged with minor or petty crimes.

On a lighter note, the minister and her deputy also visited the centre's workshops that produce furniture, clothes, steel works and bread to the value of R22 million per annum for her department as well as other government departments.

The workshops are primarily aimed at providing critical life skills and competences to offenders to enable them to lead productive lives after completing their sentences.

The centre is also involved in a number of community development initiatives that include a poultry farm and a vegetable garden to help fight poverty in the Boksburg community.