Silver Shabalala, COO of F4L, was invited to share his thoughts on innovative solutions for the criminal justice sector, at ‘Justice for Breakfast’ organized by the Wits Justice Project.
The topic “If I could do it my way…” invited the panel representing leaders from a number of organisations and academia, to present their thoughts on how to change the criminal justice sector. Innovation was stressed.
The range of ideas was far reaching, yet nothing completely impractical. Most ideas were sensible twists on the current status quo, activities that could enhance current thinking and build momentum.
Several ideas were backed up by research or at least anecdotes. All were born from personal experience, and a genuine desire to galvanise action in the sector.
There was a strong emphasis on transparency at various levels within the prison system and society. This ranged from Anton Harber promoting greater accessibility to prisons, and from prisoners to the general public; to Prince Nare who suggested that cameras in police stations and in prisons would encourage accountability. Thembekile Molaudzi argued court transcripts should be made readily available. In Thembekile’s case, the lack of these transcripts prevented him from appealing his prison sentence. He was later acquitted having served 11 years for a crime he didn’t commit.
There were other bold suggestions. Alex van den Heever suggested a massive research campaign, whereby in-depth interviews would be conducted by trained offenders, with all offenders on their life journeys. This, he suggested, would enrich the understanding of the patterns of South Africans and inform policy and planning across multiple government departments.
Ingrid Palmary motivated that border control be reduced, explaining that much of the work done and money spent in this area was disingenuous. Barbara Holtmann spoke of disarming South Africa, whereby over a five year period, guns would be handed in and immediately destroyed, police officers would not be allowed to take guns home, and high walls between homes would be taxed.
Silver suggested that a system be created whereby current offenders could provide the police with information to crack criminal rings. He argued that by using this knowledge, many offenders would start their journey of giving back to society, even as the knowledge would help manage crime. He himself, had had success in reclaiming a much loved music system by speaking to offenders following the theft of his motor vehicle.
The morning encouraged robust yet constructive debate, reflective of the critical thinkers in the room. Indeed it was this debate that uncovered the repeated ‘othering’ that occurs at all levels of our assumptions and responses.
Ultimately the point was made that we all need to do more, to change our mindsets and those of others. We need to do more in our approach to problems and our willingness to be brave in the face of the status quo. Not easy, but it is only by starting that we can make change happen. One step in the right direction is quite possibly the best solution on the table right now.