Teen killer’s sentence a dilemma

2009-10-24 00:00

A HIGH court judge in Pietermaritzburg was told by a Correctional Services official yesterday that if he sentences a juvenile killer to more than 10 years in jail he will be held in maximum security prison with mature hardened criminals instead of a juvenile facility aimed at rehabilitating him.

Here the teen is admittedly likely to be exposed to abuse, including sexual abuse, at the hands of adult prisoners and — it was suggested by state advocate Andre Ludick — that would be akin to “throwing him to the wolves”.

The evidence, given yesterday by Dominic Zulu, an assistant director at Westville Prison’s juvenile section (medium D), caused Judge Pete Koen to ask whether Correctional Services ought to review this policy.

He said it seemed as if the court is being effectively “hamstrung” (by the department’s standing orders) when deciding a suitable sentence for such a killer.

He also pointed out that the “most dangerous” criminals committing offences, including rape, robbery and murder, are more frequently youthful offenders between 17 and 23 years.

The quandary facing Koen is what sentence he ought to impose on a 16-year-old matric pupil who pleaded guilty earlier this year to taking part in the hijacking, kidnapping and murder of teacher Arnold Thenjwayo at Dambuza on July 3.

The judge said the crimes are extremely serious and were premeditated and “particularly nasty” in nature.

The court has obtained a pre-sentencing report by a social worker who suggested that the youth be imprisoned at the Ekuseni youth centre near Newcastle.

According to the report, the youth had been progressing well at school, and was in matric at a younger than normal age.

However, he fell into bad company and became involved in housebreaking and robberies.

In a bid to clarify the court’s options, Zulu was called to testify on behalf of Correctional Services.

He told the judge that his suggestion would be for the court to “impose 10 years in the juvenile section of the prison”.

Zulu explained that the only difference between Ekuseni youth centre and the juvenile section at Westville Prison (Medium D) concerns the type of rehabilitative programmes on offer.

Both facilities will only accept inmates up to the age of 23 years. Inmates have access to counselling, the opportunity to matriculate and study further, and to embark on other training and rehabilitation programmes.

Asked by Koen whether the department would — notwithstanding a sentence longer than 10 years — adhere to a court order to imprison a teen in the juvenile section until he reaches the age of 23 years, Zulu responded that the department “cannot flout a court order”.

However, Koen said another issue is whether courts ought to overrule the authority of Correctional Services in that manner, thus hampering its work.

The reason given for the rule that inmates serving jail terms of more than 10 years be held in maximum security prisons — regardless of their age — is to lower the risk of escapes by dangerous prisoners.

THE youth pleaded guilty earlier this year to taking part in the murder of the teacher who was stabbed multiple times.

He admitted in a statement to the court that he and his friends — who were drinking outside a tavern — agreed they wanted the victim’s Tazz car and would hijack him.

He pretended to admire the vehicle and its sound system and persuaded the owner to take him for a ride.

When Thenjwayo tried to escape after he was stabbed in the chest with an Okapi knife, he was put in the boot. The assailants then decided he had to be killed as he could identify them. At a secluded area he was pulled out of the boot, tripped and stabbed several times in his neck and chest.

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