Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
Escalating levels of crime and violence are a serious threat to human development, democratic institutions and good governance throughout much of the world, including southern Africa. Criminal justice and law enforcement solutions - rather than a greater emphasis on prevention - are the standard national response for a host of reasons.
The causal complexities of crime (e.g. addressing drivers of crime and violence located in the realms of health, education, economic policy, etc) are a disincentive to adopt prevention policies because impact and attribution can be difficult to measure and because real improvement may not be felt during short terms in political office. Additionally, the cross agency coordination necessary for effective crime prevention is notoriously difficult to achieve even in the best of circumstances and often stymies effective public sector management of complex social problems.
Confounding matters further are authoritarian legacies, the politicisation of crime and violence issues, the overall fragility of institutional capacity and rule of law, and adverse structural conditions of poverty and inequality.
But the OSISA Law Programme believes - as does its partner, the Open Society Foundations Crime and Violence Prevention Initiative (CVPI) - that the criminal justice system alone cannot curb crime and violence and that addressing these issues requires an integrated, long-term approach that addresses the root causes of crime, in addition to traditional law enforcement and criminal justice sanctions.
This thinking forms part of a growing global recognition of the need for integrated, multi-layered approaches to crime and violence prevention that balance the need for an effective criminal justice system; democratic law enforcement; and long term investment in projects and policies that seek to address the root causes and drivers of crime and violence.
For example, the Violence Prevention Alliance Plan of Action 2012-2020 tells us that while a professional, well-trained and effective police force and a fair and efficient criminal justice system (and OSISA is also working with the OSF Global Criminal Justice Fund to tackle the overuse of pre-trial detention) are crucial to preventing violence, evidence from high-income countries (HIC) and low-and middle-income countries (LMIC) shows strong relationships between levels of violence and potentially modifiable factors such as economic inequality; access to firearms; access to and harmful use of alcohol; and poor monitoring and parental supervision of children.
The Plan of Action argues that an important objective for violence prevention should therefore be to strengthen collaboration between public health, the criminal justice sector, and the police with the aim of increasing the chance that potential perpetrators of violence will be deterred and prevented from committing crime in the first place.
Marc Mauer, the Director of the Sentencing Project in Washington DC, puts it well. He argues that one cannot place crime and violence prevention and criminal justice reform/law enforcement at opposite ends of the spectrum in an either/or situation. He makes the point that the discussion about how to reduce crime has become polarised between advocates of long-term solutions versus those who seek immediate results, and points out that this is not a useful dichotomy.
“On the one hand”, he says, “we would be foolish to believe that we can create a fair and just society without addressing systemic issues such as poverty and racism. However, if we simply wait until these issues are resolved, we will fail to meet the urgent needs of improving safety on a daily basis. In this regard, we need to seek models of programmes and policies that can provide short-term benefit while building constituencies and approaches for long-term systemic change”.
Echoing this sentiment, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and UN-Habitat point out that: “the assumption that prevention can somehow be accomplished through the establishment of the rule of law and a viable criminal justice system remain strong in many countries. Having a well-resourced and well-run criminal justice system has been assumed to be the best way not only to build strong democratic institutions, but also to prevent crime. What has become increasingly clear, however, is that this is not necessarily the case. In developed countries such as the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, for example, over a 10-year period significant increases in penalties, in the numbers of police and in resources for youth justice have resulted in increasing numbers of young people being drawn into the criminal justice system and being charged or placed in custody”.
Likewise in South Africa, increasingly repressive criminal justice laws - including restrictions to the right to bail, minimum sentencing, amendments to the law with regard to the use by police of lethal force and increased spending on law enforcement and private security - have had little impact on levels of crime or perceptions of safety. Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly evident that overly aggressive, 'tough on crime' policing methods not only infringe on human rights, but also alienate communities the police are supposed to serve thus making law enforcement less effective.
Furthermore, the evidence shows us that incarcerating an increasing number of offenders for longer and longer periods has little impact on crime levels. To the contrary, it may well have the opposite effect with ex-offenders emerging from prison embittered, disenfranchised and with very few prospects for gainful employment or acceptance by their families and communities.
UNODC/UN Habitat add that 'in developing countries, it has become clear that development itself will not be achieved without dealing with everyday security and safety issues in a country or city. They argue that: “it is not sufficient to increase the efficiency and capacity of the criminal justice system or to train the police and prison staff. The factors that contribute to crime, such as social exclusion and lack of employment or access to good health, housing or environmental services, all need to be addressed'.
Since 1995, the United Nations Economic and Social Council has issued two sets of guidelines for States Parties and UN bodies on crime prevention. Together with more recent resolutions, such as the 2006 UN Standards and Norms in Crime Prevention, they take the view that crime prevention should be a multi-sectoral and integrated endeavour, not a “criminal justice issue” alone and that it should be addressed by examining the causal factors and vectors of crime so as to identify appropriate measures.
The guidelines direct that while the justice system can be a key point of entry and may in many contexts have primary responsibility in crime prevention; interventions need to include a much wider range of actors and dimensions in order to be able to provide sufficient understanding and guidance for relevant and sustainable action and that crime prevention strategies must be established alongside criminal justice reform.
The UNODC Handbook on the UN Crime Prevention Guidelines illustrates how in 2002, for example, the General Assembly, in its resolution 56/261, invited States Parties, inter alia, to support the promotion of close cooperation between sectors such as justice, health, education and housing to support effective crime prevention and work with civil society. Further that in its resolution 2005/22, the Economic and Social Council requested UNODC to pay due attention to crime prevention with a view to achieving a balanced approach between crime prevention and criminal justice responses.
Also, in resolution 2008/24, the Economic and Social Council, encouraged Member States, inter alia, to integrate crime prevention considerations into all relevant social and economic policies and programmes in order to effectively address the conditions in which crime and violence can emerge. The resolution also requested UNODC to explicitly address the crime prevention component in its programme of work and reporting, where relevant, including good practices that integrate crime prevention and criminal justice.
States Parties have also been directed, when reviewing resource allocations, to establish and maintain an appropriate balance between crime prevention and the criminal justice and other systems, to be more effective in preventing crime and victimization.
The guidelines on crime prevention are supported by and grounded in a number of other international standards and norms adopted by the United Nations. These include resolutions relating to children’s rights, women’s rights and the rights of victims. For example:
In addition to the efforts by the UN, the World Bank, in its recently released book, Violence in the City, notes that in some countries, the scale of urban violence can eclipse that of open warfare. They argue that violence can have a strong negative impact on economic development, drastically reduce growth and produce long lasting detrimental social impacts. They too recognize the need to balance criminal justice reform with a reorientation of strategic policy that:
Likewise, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Liverpool John Moores University in their briefing documents: Violence Prevention: The Evidence (2009) tell us that violence results in more than 1.5 million people being killed each year, and that many more suffer non-fatal injuries as a result of interpersonal violence (youth violence, intimate partner violence, child maltreatment, elder abuse and sexual violence) and collective violence (war and other forms of armed conflict). Overall, violence is among the leading causes of death worldwide for people aged 15–44 years. The seven briefing papers look at:
The five overarching objectives of the OSF CVPI are closely aligned to the thinking outlined in this paper and seek to:
1. Support projects that demonstrate the effectiveness of longer term, intensive, multi-sectoral interventions in targeted communities to reduce violence and promote safety.
2. Increase effective civil society input and transparency in violence prevention policy development and oversight.
3. Support efforts to build the capacity of national and local government to plan and conduct effective violence prevention projects as well as increase the capacity of the civil society actors who engage with them.
4. Develop, build and document prevention-centered approaches within regional and international policy dialogues.
5. Promote avenues for greater international development assistance agency collaboration and cooperation.
In conclusion, criminal justice reform cannot be viewed as linear and needs to be seen as a continuum of interventions (or perhaps more accurately a cycle of interventions).
Comprehensive reform should include prevention efforts to stem the influx of people entering already over-burdened, dysfunctional criminal justice systems in the first instance; fair, equitable law enforcement measures once an offence has occurred; accessible justice for victims and offenders as well as effective reintegration efforts aimed at preventing reoffending and bringing down rates of recidivism. This can only be achieved through strategies that address all elements in the cycle of crime and violence and interventions that begin well before the point of arrest and continue once an offender is released from prison i.e. strategies that balance the immediate need for safety and security with the longer-term objective of achieving systemic social change and positive social impact.ShareThis