Talking can cut social crimes

2008-01-23 00:00

Bringing perpetrators and victims together to discuss crimes could do more good than sending them to court, said researchers who followed the progress of the 18-month-long Justice and Restoration Project (Jarp) in Phoenix, near Durban.

At yesterday’s presentation of their findings, members of the Justice Department, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Khulisa Crime Prevention Initiative (supported by the Royal Danish Embassy) agreed that Jarp, which began in September 2006, reduced crime and court backlogs, making it a best practice model that could be rolled out countrywide, funds permitting.

According to the report, between August and November 2007, crime dropped sharply. Eight categories of crime declined — common assault by 37,8%, aggravated robbery by 53,3%, neglect and ill treatment of children by 42,8%, car hijacking by 12,5%, malicious damage to property by 11,1%, crimen injuria by 51%, drug-elated crimes by 7,2% and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs by 28,7%.

Nevertheless, serious crime continues and common robbery is increasing at an unacceptable pace.

The report noted that the crimes under the spotlight were motivated by anger and an inability to cope in a community that has high levels of poverty and unemployment. One of the greatest challenges is that the community is apathetic and reluctant to join the police in fighting crime.

Before the programme was implemented, there was an average of 795 cases on the court roll each month between September 2006 and March 2007.

This dropped to 564 cases between April and August 2007, which represented a 29% drop and a substantial improvement on the 15% target set. The number of cases older than six months was reduced by 63% over the same period.

Jarp is based on restorative justice or mediation.

"[It] offers a holistic alternative to judicial systems that incarcerate offenders and often ignore victims’ need for restitution and closure.

"One aspect is victim-friendly mediation, which brings offenders and victims together in the presence of trained mediators to discuss the offence and jointly decide what should be done to ensure the offender is held accountable and restitution is offered to the victim," said Professor Herman Conradie of Unisa’s Department of Criminology.

It also allows both sides of the story to be told.

"The mediator prepares both the victim and offender to speak about the crime and give each other options to solve the problem," Conradie said. "An apology offered and a sincere admission of guilt is made."

The offender then pays back what he or she stole, offers services to the victim as compensation, or performs community service.

At least 60% of the victims who took part were victims of common assault, while 21% were victims of domestic violence and 14% had suffered malicious damage to property.

According to the final evaluation, 94% of offenders and 95% of victims were satisfied with the agreement reached during mediation.

In addition, 81% of victims said meeting with the offender helped reduce their fears of further attacks, while 84% said mediation offered offenders a means to understand the harm they had done.

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