Lecturer Presents Research on Access to Justice for Rural Young Offenders

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Social Work lecturer Mr Bongane Mzinyane presented his research work titled: Access to Justice for Rural Young Offenders in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: Best Practices and Innovative Methods by Practitioners when Implementing Diversion, during the 22nd Biennial International Consortium for Social Development (ICSD) Conference.

The virtual event was held under the theme Poverty, Inequality and Social Development Innovations around the World.

Mzinyane’s presentation, motivated by his postgraduate research, highlighted innovations and best practices that are adopted by social work practitioners in rural KwaZulu-Natal. His paper also made significant recommendations for other countries that share the same socio-economic characteristics as South Africa.

His research further explored the experiences and perceptions of the ‘implementers’ of diversion services for rural young offenders and factors that impede and those that promote diversion services for those offenders.

Mzinyane found that the challenges of rendering services in rural areas were poverty and lack of transport for child offenders to reach town, and the lack of transport and organisational resources for diversion facilitators to reach rural areas.

Mzinyane suggested solutions to the problems in rendering services in rural areas including the decentralisation of diversion services (from town to rural areas) and strategies to encourage compliance with the court orders.

‘Local schools have also collaborated with the NGO sector in Ladysmith to facilitate diversion services for young offenders. Collaboration has also ensured that practitioners of diversion are able to decentralise because they have been given venues by the local school,’ said Mzinyane.

He indicated that social workers were ‘not too strict’ when they facilitated ‘probationary roles’ but rather employed restorative justice strategies and also considered the social development challenges offenders faced. ‘Reporting the case back to court was a last resort. This means social workers (probation officers) were using rehabilitative and aftercare strategies to achieve the ideals of diversion which are to prevent children from getting criminal records.’

Mzinyane recommends that other countries with similar socio-economic challenges could benchmark from the decentralisation practice of justice services to rural children.

‘Governments and donors need to invest more resources in NGOs serving rural child offenders,’ said Mzinyane. ‘Decentralisation should be formalised by introducing laws that make decentralisation of services a compulsory practice. There should also be more studies to focus on rural areas with more self-initiated solutions from rural people and rural-based practitioners.’

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