Why are we locking up Jackie Selebi?

2011-12-10 10:10

What exactly do we want to achieve by jailing disgraced former police boss Jackie Selebi?

I’ve been wondering about this since a frail-looking Selebi was ambulanced out of his house to a Pretoria hospital last week.

The image of a sick Selebi, his arm attached to a drip, in the back of an ambulance, did not evoke a Eureka moment in me. Far from running down Empire Road, shouting “Justice at last!”, I felt sorry for the human being in that picture.

He looked pathetic, defeated and sad.

This was followed by almost hysterical media reports à la “Was Selebi Shaik-ing?” Nobody really bothered to find out if the man was truly ill.

The mere fact that he was admitted to the hospital section of Pretoria Central Prison was enough proof that he was playing sick and on the highway to medical parole.

Knowing – as we should – that imprisonment does not deter crime, why are we such a retribution-crazed nation? Wasn’t the public embarrassment of the two judgments against him, the loss of his job and the albatross of shame he has to carry for the rest of his adult life enough punishment?

Let there be no doubt that Selebi has brought shame on us all. He betrayed the police, the man who appointed him, the ideals he and the ANC fought for and an entire nation, battered by crime.

To the bitter end, Selebi denied his own criminal culpability. Both the high court and the Supreme Court of Appeal correctly found that this was an arrogant man, blinded by money and ego, who should have known better.

But no, not Selebi.

The ex-president of Interpol knew all about the difficulty to counter sophisticated forms of corruption, but still betrayed his conscience. For that he was publicly shamed by two scathing court rulings.

What will imprisoning a 61-year-old man contribute to this country, and the individuals and institutions he has harmed? Those who still believe that criminals are deterred by the prospect of 15 years in jail should visit their nearest prison.

You don’t need a doctorate in criminology to know that every criminal thinks he or she won’t be caught out. Selebi did too.

In an excellent and scathing paper on punishment and deterrence, South Africa’s foremost researcher on prisons, Lukas Muntingh, wrote in 2008 that South Africa still subscribes to the 200-year-old belief that imprisonment brings down crime. It doesn’t.

Already by the early 19th century, there was increasing evidence that prisons weren’t doing what they were supposed to – decrease crime.

Muntingh convincingly argues that prisons are attractive to politicians and the private sector for a number of reasons. These include the symbolic value that government is tough on crime, prisons give citizens a sense of retribution, they give citizens a sense of security and, of course, prisons are a huge job creator and money machine.

Unfortunately, prisons don’t reduce crime. Between 2003 and 2008, 47% less people were imprisoned for violent crimes in South Africa. Did the crime go up by 47% in that period? No. In fact, the prevalence of violent crime took a dip in those five years.

So if jailing Selebi won’t deter other police officers from taking bribes and won’t bring down crime and corruption, why are we locking him up?

Surely his public fall from grace was a symbolic enough moment for government, the ANC and senior civil servants to (hopefully) learn from his mistakes?

Imprisonment is an ancient form of punishment that has been proven to fail society. Muntingh concludes, and I agree: “Imprisonment should be used as a measure of last resort . . . all other options, not only penal sanctions, need to be assessed and exhausted before a person is deprived of his or her liberty.”

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Man scores date with tennis superstar after Twitter bet

It’s a modern day Cinderella story, but one American man took ‘shoot your shot’ seriously in 2017.

 
 

You won't want to miss...

6 myths about male cancer
Who are the highest paid models of 2017?
10 gorgeous plus-sized models who aren't Ashley Graham
5 top leg exercises for men
Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.