Crime rates down in pilot project

Mary Papayya

Mary Papayya

A pilot project in KwaZulu-Natal has successfully brought down crime rates, streamlined the criminal justice system, reduced prison overcrowding and provided closure to crime victims, according to an evaluation of work undertaken in Phoenix township last year.

The Phoenix Justice and Restoration Project (Phoenix-JARP) was carried out jointly by the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and Khulisa Crime Prevention Initiative, supported by the Royal Danish Embassy.

Restorative Justice (RJ) offers a holistic alternative to judicial systems that incarcerate offenders and often ignore the victims' need for restitution and closure.

One aspect of RJ 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 victims.

Criminology professors from the University of South Africa (Unisa) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal involved in evaluating the pilot project in Phoenix report that during the four-month period of August toNovember last year crime dropped sharply.

Common assault, for example, declined by 37percent, while aggravated robbery fell by 53percent and child abuse decreased by 42percent.

Professor Herman Conradie of Unisa says: "The intervention of the JARP programme should be considered as one of the major contributing factors to these declines, because it was a new intervention that was not influencing the criminal environment beforehand."

According to the evaluation, 94percent of offenders and 95percent of victims indicated that they were satisfied with the agreement reached during the mediation.

Eighty-one percent of the victims said that meeting with the offender helped to reduce their fear of further attack.

Eighty-four percent expressed the belief that mediation offered offenders a means to understand the harm they caused.

The NPA's strategy 2020 requires the NPA to explore RJ as one of the means to combating crime in the long-term.

According to Sagren Naidoo, chief prosecutor and provincial head of RJ for the NPA in KwaZulu-Natal, the NPA will "proceed cautiously, as justice must be seen to be done and the cycle of crime broken".