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Young people need early intervention to avoid a life of criminality

Prisoners cutting hair inside Goodwood Correctional Centre. Pictures: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)

Prisoners cutting hair inside Goodwood Correctional Centre. Pictures: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Jun 17, 2022

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Cape Town - As the nation reflects on the countless issues facing the youth, an organisation that works with rehabilitating criminal offenders has revealed that youth make up the bulk of the clients they service.

The Department of Correctional Services has confirmed that as of March 31, 2022 there were 1 511 inmates between the ages of 18-21 incarcerated nationally.

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Interventions by the provincial government has seen some of the young people afforded the opportunity to improve their circumstances through education and skills training while in prison.

Infrastructure MEC Tertuis Simmers recently visited incarcerated youth in Mossel Bay, where 30 young inmates graduated from a programme aimed at technical skills training in the built environment.

The training will assist prepare them for a life outside of prison and possibly becoming self-employed.

As an intervention strategy for youth who have been detained, this falls in line with what Nicro describes as a “protective factor” for young people falling prey to the overwhelming culture of criminality in the country.

Nicro CEO Betzi Pierce said when it came to children, the driving force for criminality usually stems from risk factors involved in an individual’s life.

These include, lack of education, extreme poverty, inequality, abuse or neglect and personality disorders which could drive a child to criminality.

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“A child would often not get belonging and nurturing that one would expect in the family and would go out to into peer groups where they would be exposed to other types of behaviour,” she said.

The organisation has recorded that in the Western Cape from April 2021 to date, on average 100 youths per month were referred to Nicro.

About a quarter of the individuals are between 18-22 years old, bringing the total to about 1 500.

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Incarcerated youth in Mossel Bay graduated from a skills training programme to prepare for a life outside prison and self employment. Pic: Supplied

“Working especially with youth, we really have to make sure that we can intervene quick enough to really help this person turn their life around.

“If you wait too long and a person has committed multiple crimes, you find that those crimes become more serious and more violent, which results in somebody getting entrenched in the life of a criminal and then it’s very difficult for them to turn around.”

She explained that once somebody has been part of the criminal justice system it is difficult for them to deal with life outside of prison because of stigma but behavioural change is key.

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“Very few people stay in prison forever, and when they come out and you haven’t rehabilitated and re-integrated them into the community , they could pose a risk.

“You have to change their behaviour and you can’t just say they deserve a second chance we should say as public we deserve that they be given a second chance because then they will not be a threat to society,” she said.

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