Restorative justice – not sentences – can break South Africa’s school-to-prison pipeline, a youth crime prevention NGO has said.
This was in light of a series of gang-related violence in schools around the country, highlighting the growing trend of children as young as 15 becoming victims and perpetrators of violent crime.
Lobby and advocacy director at youth crime intervention NGO Nicro, Vanessa Padayachee, said South Africa’s school system could benefit far better from an holistic approach.
“Around the world people are starting to adopt the restorative justice approach. There is this school-to-prison pipeline where a child with behavioural problems at school is likely to just end up in prison. We have to do interventions earlier, like in primary school and with young children.”
Speaking at the memorial service of 15-year-old stabbing victim Daniel Bakwela at Forest High School, education MEC Panyaza Lesufi announced plans to boost preventative measures in the province to deal with bullies, gang activity and other violence-related problems.
These included introducing undercover police to monitor schools identified as problematic and his pursuit of “500 bullies” in the province who would receive professional help.
Padayachee said prisons were being filled with young people who started exhibiting violent behaviour at school.
She said dealing with the developmental issues affecting youth in marginalised communities was the key.
“A large amount of people in the prisons are between the age of 18 so most people come into the criminal justice system as youth and one has to understand this from a developmental perspective. They live in environments that are already violent and so they become hyper-vigilant in responding to certain situations and they are likely to respond by being aggressive and hypersensitive,” she said.
Teachers union Sadtu supported Lesufi’s call for urgent interventions at schools to prevent a crisis of violence in schools.
“We need to look at ways of ensuring there is a legalised system to search any person coming onto school premises to prevent weapons being brought to school. It is also very important for schools to work with other departments like the police and professionals that can have psychosocial care services incorporated into the schooling system,” said the union’s secretary-general Mugwena Maluleke.
He said they were on course to launch their own campaign to assist government.