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STUDY: 60% of detainees held for non-violent crimes; high crime areas have less arrests than affluent areas

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A new study has thrown the spotlight onto detention before trial and the extent of it’s consequences. Among the findings were how policing differs in more affluent areas, detainees suffer socio-economic challenges after being released and their absence at home has a knock-on effect on their families.

Researcher at the Africa Criminal Justice Reform (ACJR) and author of the report, Jean Redpath, explained that similar studies were done alongside the Dullah Omar Institute in six other countries. Redpath said the study aimed to factualize the impact of being detained.

“We were motivated by the special rapporteur on poverty. We felt that detention before trial can have serious socio-economic consequences and is part of the reason that countries get held back. That’s why we sought to find evidence whether or not that is true. We wanted to do something closer to home so we started at Pollsmore because it houses majority of prisoners In the Western Cape.”

The medium length of detention is 70 days which equates to over two months. Redpath said that detainees can suffer from a stigmatism being attached to them after returning from such a duration.

“Social consequences included work mates and friends that would view the person differently, so how they are received in society changes. It’s not a trivial thing and it’s not a trivial time either. What is the purpose of detaining someone for a month or three months when there are long term consequences that play out, not just for the person but also their families?” questioned Redpath.

It was also revealed that majority of those arrested were bread-winners for their families.

“We found similar (results) to other countries where people lose income. Mostly they are income earning, mostly they have families and we found that there are serious consequences when those bread-winners are removed,” said Redpath.

The author went on to explain that there is a significant impact on children, particularly if the detainee is female and children need to move.

“Often children have to live somewhere else, so they have to relocate. In some instances, their school is affected. We also found in some instances that behaviors were negatively affected because one parent has been removed from the household.”

The effect on the family is exacerbated as the report pointed to dedicated family members who would que from as early as 4am to visit for a short period, just to maintain contact with those behind prison walls.

“In addition, we’ve found that families spend a lot of time and effort visiting the people who are detained. Bringing food, medicine- all sorts of things that the prison is supposed to provide. But due to overcrowding and the prison economy it becomes difficult for the prisoner to get by without being visited.”

There has been concern, however, for the psychological impact of being isolated from family or friends for an “unnecessary” duration. A minority was shown to have received no visitations and, according to the profiles done, these are the “poorest of the poor whose families cannot afford to come visit and support them.”

The researcher highlighted that by looking at where and for what detainees were arrested as well as their visitations, a number of accurate conclusions could be made. A vital aspect to the justice system is adequate policing. This study revealed that high crime areas see less arrests than more affluent areas, which in turn sees a larger number of arrests for minor offences.

“We found that majority of the places with high crime rates have a lower number of arrests, compared to low crime areas which saw a higher number of arrests. We look at a place like Nyanga which has a high crime rate but there aren’t many arrests as you’d expect. Then you get places like Seapoint and Camps Bay, where there is a big proportion of people coming out of Pollsmor- but it’s not in line with the crime reported in those areas and its for less serious offences. So that suggested to us that in some areas you’re going to be arrested for things you wouldn’t be in other areas.”

Although South Africa is notorious for its high rate of violence, rape and murder; the second largest category of arrests was shown to be for the “possession of drugs”.

“Of concern for us is the high number of arrests for the mere “possession” of drugs- this is not drug dealing. This is often someone that has a small amount of marijuana. From our perspective, imprisonment, especially detention before trial, mostly (should be for) violent crimes suspects and unfortunately that wasn’t the case.”

The institution has since called on detention before trial to be used for serious offences.

“Detention before trial has serious consequences and what concerns us is that it’s applied unequally. More than 60% (of those detained) are for non-violent offences and we would really like to see detention before trial to be for more serious offences- and only when absolutely necessary,” said Redpath.


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