The crisis of criminal justice in South Africa
This article builds on two lectures (delivered in 2017 and 2019 at the University of the Western Cape and the University of Cape Town respectively) that addressed a a controversial and often overlooked crisis in the criminal justice system – the minimum sentencing regime. The paper argues that minimum sentences are no response at all to curbing crime in South Africa and to making our people safe. The minimum sentencing regime is a misdirected, hugely costly and above all ineffective way of punishing criminals and dealing with crime. It has been an extravagant mistake of science, understanding, and policy and social response. The article summarises some of the arguments and considers why we are still stuck with minimum sentences when they are demonstrably useless and counterproductive. The author argues that the reasons lie in our broken history, in incoherent decision-making in our present political leadership, institutional incompetence, and the fact that minimum sentences themselves, through their false promise, divert us from finding more efficient solutions.
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