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Community prosecutions can help reduce crime

by Bathandwa Mbola
on 13 Mar 2008
BuaNews Online
BuaNews Online

Partnerships between community prosecutors, municipalities, local communities and police forums can significantly help reduce crime rates as well as anti-crime initiatives.

This is according to findings revealed on Wednesday by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) - sponsored community prosecution project survey, which was initiated in 2006.

Researcher Richard Griggs of Independent Projects Trusts said on Wednesday that the pilot program was conducted in each of the country's nine provinces, in areas that account for some of the highest crime levels in the country.

"The community prosecuting project sought to explore the role of prosecutors in proactive problem solving initiatives that would reduce the pressure on the courts by reducing crime," Dr Griggs said.

The pilot study occurred in the Mandela Extension, Mamelodi in Pretoria; Windsor East in Randburg; Unit one in Mdantsane, Eastern Cape; Ngangelizwe in Mthatha; Bohlokong in Free State; Phutaneng in the Northern Cape; Kudumane in North West; Point in KwaZulu-Natal and Siyahlala in Cape Town.

Dr Griggs said the evaluation results revealed that community prosecutions contributed to reducing crime problems in eight out of the nine provincial sites during the piloting period.

"Community prosecutors bring additional support to the police, help educate people about the law and their role as witnesses, and at the same time become informed about a specific community's needs.

"That way, our prosecutors get to know what's important in specific areas and can help the police build their cases accordingly."

He said the detailed data was most convincing for national implementation because many improvements could be recorded in the high crime sectors of some of the worse crime hotspots in the country.

Dr Griggs cited from the study that community prosecutors have had some early success in the rural North West Kudumani, where cattle theft had been a significant problem.

A major clamp-down on rustling in 2006 led to a significant reduction in cattle theft, which is now small in the area (previously up to 40 cases had been reported per day).

"The community is no longer engaged in vigilantism, and proper facilities, including fenced grazing camps, branding, and veterinary services, all of which prevent cattle theft are being developed.

"With the arrest of police members who were participating in livestock theft, police-community relations have improved," he said.

In another, very different example, Dr Griggs said in Windsor East in Cresta, an urban area troubled by drug sales, organised crime, and transient populations - a joint operation between the community prosecutor and local police resulted in the arrests of 15 drug syndicate members.

"A number of illegal immigrants, whose presence in the community had led to a noticeable increase in criminal activity, have been arrested and deported."

He said the arrests of dozens of other offenders have helped clean up Windsor.

"Drug dealers who were previously visible have retreated from the streets, and it is no longer common for landlords to rent to illegal immigrants or for businesses to hire them," he said.

The community prosecution programme has garnered special attention because it is so new and different from the traditional idea of prosecution, which is simply to try to jail accused offenders.

In some parts of the United States, where community prosecuting has been practised since the mid-1990s, crime has decreased by 40 percent or more.

The NPA is in a process of evaluating the recommendations of the study, said NPA Acting Deputy National Director, Advocate Sibongile Mzinyathi.

Speaking at the event, he said due to government's commitment to reducing crime, the NPA is evaluating the recommendations and will be expanding the programme to other sites in the country in the next coming two years.

In this regard, he said the organisation has unveiled a new partnership-building activity aimed at preventing crime problems.

"The objective of this initiative is to identify and build strategic partnerships with other branches of government, the community and civil society to jointly address the underlying causes of public insecurity and therefore alleviate pressure on the courts," said Adv Mzinyathi. - BuaNews

Compiled by the Government Communication and Information System


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