The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola used his address at the National Council for Correctional Services (NCCS) Colloquium on Restorative Justice to call for a deep reflection into the effectiveness of the entire correctional system in South Africa.
Addressing delegates gathered at Protea OR Tambo Hotel in Gauteng, on 20 June 2023, Minister Lamola was adamant that key role players in the corrections value-chain cannot be oblivious to the deafening public sentiment about the efficacy of the corrections system at this current juncture. “As we speak now, there is a raging debate in the South African society on the effectiveness of the entire system in terms of correcting the offenders; about whether our rehabilitation programmes are achieving the intended objective of rehabilitating the offender; and thirdly, on whether the parole system in its conceptualisation is indeed achieving the intended objective of reintegrating offenders back into society,” stated Minister Lamola.
Minister Lamola said that he often finds himself in an unenviable position when he has to decide to either grant or deny parole to lifers who have committed heinous crimes such as rape. He says that when considering whether or not to grant parole, he has to balance the interest of the offender, the victim(s) and broader society.
Minister Lamola said that the overriding public sentiment is at odds with some of the recommendations he receives to grant parole to offenders who have committed serious crimes such as gender-based violence, rape and femicide. “I don’t want to disrespect the recommendations of the NCCS because they are experts, but as I consider these reports, I must also be cognisant of what is in the public interest,” he explained.
He said that his decision-making process is greatly enhanced when there is evidence of victim participation from the inception stages. “As I go through the files when they come to me, I see the life of an offender from the beginning to the end. I believe that if the victim participates in the whole life of the offender, we will not have such a scenario where we don’t know what happened to the victim, where they are, and what should be their role,” he posited.
Professor Marelize Schoeman from the University of South Africa gave an insightful presentation on Restorative Justice in Corrections and advocated for a shift to view an offender as someone who has wronged another person and a victim as someone who has been harmed and not disempowered during the commission of a crime.
“Viewing crime through such a lens enables offenders to take responsibility for their actions, make amends, and actively engage in the process of addressing the harm they have caused. Victims, in turn, are provided the opportunity to have their voices heard, take ownership of their healing process, and inadvertently contribute to the rehabilitation of the person who harmed them. Similarly, community members who have been affected by the crime are empowered through the restorative process, which fosters empathy, understanding, and forgiveness. As a result, healing, personal transformation, and the restoration of relationships within the community are achieved, paving the way for the successful reintegration of offenders back into society,” she postulated.
Among other incisive contributions, Prof. Schoeman proposed the following:
• Creating restorative correctional centres that embrace a normative value system aligned with restorative justice and ubuntu philosophies;
• Implementing a compulsory restorative justice programme as part of all offenders’ Correctional Sentence Plans;
• Recommending a victim-offender dialogue process following an offender’s admission assessment and incorporating it into the Offender’s Rehabilitation Paths and Correctional Sentence Plans; and
• Establishing meaningful partnerships with governmental and civil society to facilitate social connections for offenders, even during their imprisonment.
Professor Emma Lubaale from Rhodes University also weighed in with insightful contribution by drawing an intriguing parallel between retributive and restorative justice from a domestic and global perspective. She located the role of restorative justice within the South African context, and endorsed the seminal judgment of the Constitutional Court in S v Makwanyane and Another which outlawed capital punishment (death penalty).
Delegates broke in commissions where they engaged themselves in pertinent discussions before reporting back to plenary focusing on the following thematic issues:
• Victim participation in parole processes and restorative justice processes
• Vulnerable groups in parole processes and restorative justice processes
• Legislation/Policy/Guidelines and Directives on restorative justice in Corrections
• Restorative justice and Correctional programmes.
The National Council for Correctional Services (NCCS) is a statutory body that guides the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services in developing policy relating to the correctional system and the sentence-management process.