Rustenburg secure care centre effectively helping young-offenders

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Young awaiting-trail offenders are being taught how to manage their anger, be disciplined and live among their community as a normal member of society at secure care centres, writes Kagiso Metswamere.

The Rustenburg Secure Care Centre in Boitekong was established to keep offenders between the ages of 13 and 17 away from hardened criminals who are detained in prison cells and give them a real chance at rehabilitation.

The centre, which is the third such centre to be built in the province, has also successfully reduced overcrowding of awaiting-trail prisoners in prison facilities.

The centre's boast of a police station and a court, and offers social services. The youngsters are taught valuable lessons through participation in woodwork, steelwork, electrical and art workshops.

The young offenders are prepared for life outside of crime.

Young people in conflict with the law and awaiting trial are held at such centres in line with the Criminal Procedure Act No. 51 of 1977. Before the introduction of such facilities by the Departments of Correctional Services and Social Development they were detained in police cells or prisons with adults.

This exposed them to great risks of negative influences by criminals accused of more serious crimes

North West provincial police spokesperson Superintendent Lesego Metsi explained to BuaNews that before the centres were introduced many young offenders were released back to the society on bail without having undergone proper rehabilitation.

"We needed to properly prepare young offenders well before they go back to the community and also make sure that we do the rehabilitation separately."

Mr Metsi explained that many young offenders were released on bail but without proper rehabilitation. "It is hard for them to be accepted by their own communities, depending on the alleged offences."

He said in the past there were no proper facilities to keep young offenders. "We were required by the law to put them in separate prison cells, especially those awaiting trial for serious offences such as rape."

Phyllis Mashego, the Regional Coordinator of the Mafikeng Secure Centre confirmed that most young offenders appreciated the services they received at the centre and believed that they were making a difference in the youngsters' lives.

She said they only accommodated 48 young offenders in the centre

"We are taking care of them very well. Some of them are for serious cases such as rape and murder," she said.

A 17-year-old male, from Magogoe village in Mafikeng, who wished to remain anonymous, is an awaiting-trail offender accused of rape and murder.

He was arrested in 2007 and spent time at the Mmabatho police station in a juvenile cell being being transferred to the Mafikeng Secure Centre.

"I spent some time in the awaiting trial cell at the police station and I was so scared. The space was small and it was a bad environment for me to be in."

He said once he was transferred to the centre he was kept busy with various activities such as sports and educational classes.

"We have classes, which give us life skills mostly focusing on anger management, how to live with other people and they also teach us sports, arts and crafts."

Lerato Nthuleng, 17, from Rustenburg was accused of malicious damage to property.

After spending a month at the centre, workers at the centre have taught her discipline and self respect. She hopes that when she gets back to her community she will put in practice what she has learned at the centre as well as complete her matric.

"There are good people at the centre who really care about our well being. The social workers here really teach us things that I think will work for me in the long run such as anger management, discipline and how to live with people in my community," she explained.

She added that she felt safe at the centre, something that was not usually the case in normal prisons.

In 2002, Cabinet urged the Departments of Correctional Services and Social Development to expedite the process of ensuring that juveniles were kept in separate prisons or places of safety.

This was after an SABC TV news expose of corruption allegedly taking place at the Grootvlei Prison in Bloemfontein, Free State.

The video footage showed among others, prison warders allegedly selling juveniles to older prisoners for sex