Province Tackles Issue of Diversion Programmes for Young Offenders
Media Statement by Albert Fritz, Minister of Social Development
On Friday last week I had a round table discussion with several role players within the criminal justice system to unpack the issue of diversion and how it is applied in the Western Cape.
It was encouraging to hear that the Western Cape is light years ahead of all other provinces in terms of the implementation of the Child Justice Act. That being said though, we still have a fair amount of obstacles to overcome, especially in terms of diverting young offenders away from the criminal justice system when they initially come into conflict with the law.
The meeting was attended by representatives from the Department of Justice, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the City of Cape Town, SAPS, Nicro, Khulisa, the Department of Social Development, the Department of Community Safety, the Department of Education and several other NGOs.
Through robust debate and acknowledgement of the role of each of the entities with in the criminal justice system, I am pleased that we were able to agree on the following:
- Vetting and accreditation of all organisations that offer diversion programmes will be expedited.
- A database of accredited organisations will be produced and made available to all magistrates. This will ensure that magistrates have the necessary information at their disposal to make informed decisions specific to the location and needs of the offending child, when they sentence children to complete a diversion programme.
- The progress of children on diversion programmes will be more thoroughly monitored and documented, so as to ascertain whether the programme is effective in bringing about behavioural change.
While this is but one step in the right direction, it could go a long way to ensure that we divert young offenders onto proper programmes, so as to meaningfully and positively influence their antisocial behaviour and give them a fair chance in life.
It was also acknowledged that many of the issues find their way back to problems within the child's home and to this end my department will put renewed effort into parenting programmes at grass roots level. Parents have to take responsibility for the way in which they raise their children. We realise that this is a challenging task, with broken family structures being a very common phenomenon. My department is committed to extending support and guidance to families, to equip parents with the skills and knowledge to adapt and grow with their children.
NGOs that work with not only youth in conflict with the law, but also youth in contact with the law, have raised concerns regarding access to young people through the school system. While this government is committed to ensuring that time spent during school hours is focused on teaching children to read, write and calculate, we recognise the need to reach out to children at school in terms of early intervention programmes when antisocial behaviour is detected. As such, I have encouraged the NGOs to work with the Education Department, the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport and the Department of Social Development to increase the services available to learners during the 14:00 - 18:00 after-school programmes. During these after school sessions we want to respond to the needs of children on all levels of their development, including academic, sport, cultural, social and their holistic wellbeing.
I realise that we have a long way to go to win the war, but with the kind of commitment I saw on Friday, we are on the right track to win one battle at a time.
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