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Nicro gets flak from correctional services after call to reduce the cost of prisoners

Nicro CEO Betzi Pierce said South African prisons were universities of crime, with the majority of them housing many minor or less-serious offenders who could have undergone an alternative intervention. Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)

Nicro CEO Betzi Pierce said South African prisons were universities of crime, with the majority of them housing many minor or less-serious offenders who could have undergone an alternative intervention. Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 4, 2022

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Cape Town - The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has pushed back at a call by the SA National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro) to partner-up and create sustainable interventions to reduce the cost of imprisonment.

The non-profit organisation said that although about R1.63 billion was being spent on housing inmates each year, with no improvement in the rate of crime, it could offer tested interventions – namely diversion and non-custodial sentencing that would cut the hefty bill down sizeably.

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Nicro CEO Betzi Pierce said South African prisons were universities of crime, with the majority of them housing many minor or less-serious offenders who could have undergone an alternative intervention.

“Differentiating between the categories of inmates in our prisons is important if we want to have a real shot at reducing the rate of crime in our country. If we change the way we process less-serious offenders, who do not necessarily need to be housed in prison, we can cut down on the number of people we need to sustain.

“Moreover, this will also help avoid exposure to the negative socialisation that happens in our prisons that produces hardened criminals.

“The fact that most prisoners re-offend when they are released is evidence that we have a better chance at reintegrating offenders if they are not exposed to the negative socialisation that happens in our prisons in the first place,” he said.

Pierce said Nicro’s two main interventions could help address issues straddling the South African prison system. He said mitigating factors could legitimately be taken into account when processing a case.

“At Nicro, these programmes have their foundations in cognitive behavioural therapy. We offer counselling that addresses the root causes of criminal behaviour, to bring about a lasting change, where offenders are far less likely to commit crimes again,” he said.

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However, the DCS said the department was already working with stakeholders and partners in the corrections space.

Spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said: “Challenges arise when some organisations view correctional services as an avenue to generate income. The figures provided by Nicro are not even accurate, but they are used in an effort to generate a false need.

“Their statement goes further to say ‘correctional centres are the universities of crime’. This is pure nonsense, and it is something that we will never accept. We dealt with Nicro in the past, and their statement is a disturbance as we have always treated them as an institution at work,” Nxumalo said.

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