Compiled by Kotie Geldenhuys
In his book The Choice - the Gayton McKenzie story, the controversial former gangster who eventually exposed corruption in the Grootvlei Correctional Centre, Gayton McKenzie, writes the following: “As a robber you’re always lying to yourself and saying, ‘this is my last one’. You think, I’ll invest the money, spend it frugally, but invariably once you have the money, something else comes along. Your friends describe the next job as a piece of cake … You never think this will be one too many, the one that will finally sink you, like a golf ball that’s been hit all over the course, but eventually reaches its hole. I have been arrested and faced the judge … 16 times…”
Crime is a huge problem and a nightmare for most societies in the world. It is no secret that South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world - and where there is a high crime rate, prison overcrowding is often a necessary consequence, as is the situation in our country. Many of those serving time in these overcrowded correctional facilities are reoffenders, and therefore it comes as no surprise that South Africa also suffers from one of the highest recidivism rates in the world.
Recidivism, which is the tendency to revert to crime upon release from prison, seems to be an uncontrollable phenomenon as inmates keep on reoffending, which impacts negatively on the already overcrowded correctional centres in South Africa. Recidivism has become a concern to the authorities in general, but it seems that the ways in which this problem is addressed are not a priority.
The extent of the problem
Makoni (2013) writes that it is estimated that 80% of criminals accommodated in South African correctional facilities are repeat offenders and a significant number of these are hardcore offenders. During a radio interview on RSG in February 2017, Prof Charl Cilliers from Unisa’s Department of Corrections, said that the figure of reoffending is around 90% and that individuals return to prison within a short period after their release. In 2010, the Minister of Correctional Services at the time, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, visited Pollsmoor where she met with 30 young girls aged between 16 and 20. The shocking finding that the Minister made was that approximately 90% of these young women were repeat offenders (www.sanews.gov.za/features/society-must-help-stop-repeat-offenders).
Although the following statistic is more than a decade old, it is interesting to see how big the problem already was in 2001, when Shabangu (2006) found that out of a total of 142 580 sentenced inmates:
- 11 255 inmates had one previous conviction each;
- 6229 inmates had two previous convictions each;
- 4615 inmates had three previous convictions each;
- 3639 inmates had four previous convictions each;
- 2840 inmates had five previous convictions each;
- 2471 inmates had six previous convictions each;
- 2053 inmates had seven previous convictions each;
- 1756 inmates had eight previous convictions each;
- 1560 inmates had nine previous convictions each;
- 1328 inmates had ten previous convictions each; and
- 1066 inmates had 11 previous convictions each.
The researcher concluded by noting that four inmates had 37 previous convictions each and that three inmates had 38 previous convictions each.
Department of Correctional Services’ responsibility
In terms of section 36 of the Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998, the purpose of imprisonment, after having due regard to the fact that the deprivation of liberty serves the purposes of punishment, is to enable the sentenced prisoner to lead a socially responsible and crime-free life in future. This Act sets out three objectives, namely to:
- enforce the sentences imposed by the courts;
- detain all inmates in safe custody whilst ensuring their human dignity; and
- promote the social responsibility and human development of all inmates and persons subject to community corrections.