Criminal justice systems are introducing more appropriate sentences such as community work, training programmes, or treatment for the addiction and mental health problems that are at the root of criminal behaviour.
9 June 2008
Youth justice, traditional justice systems, gender, mental health and addiction addressed at Commonwealth Alternative Sentencing Programme
Alternative sentences are the focus of a Commonwealth workshop taking place in Botswana from 9 to 13 June 2008.
The participants, drawn from Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia and Swaziland, include judges, criminal defence lawyers and professionals from national prison, probation and police services.
"The workshop aims to increase knowledge of alternative sentencing options and promote co-operation in this area among national criminal justice agencies," said Kevin Maguire, Adviser in the Justice Section of the Commonwealth Secretariat, whose presentation highlighted successes and challenges in alternative sentencing across the Commonwealth.
Alternative sentencing refers to all sentences and punishment other than prison incarceration.
Other presenters are focusing on youth justice, traditional justice systems, probation, gender, mental health, addiction and international human rights obligations. Jamil Mujuzi, a legal expert from the University of the Western Cape in South Africa, examined alternative sentencing from an African human rights perspective.
The programme, the first in a proposed series of regional workshops, was requested by the law ministers of small Commonwealth jurisdictions during a meeting in October 2007. This request follows a wealth of research worldwide suggesting that imprisonment is not always the solution because it encourages repeat offending, is more expensive than alternative sentences and does not address the root cause of offending.
In view of this evidence, many criminal justice systems are introducing more appropriate sentences such as community work, training programmes, or treatment for the addiction and mental health problems that are at the root of criminal behaviour.
However, despite its increasing use in other jurisdictions, alternative sentencing options remain relatively rare in the Southern Africa region. Participants and speakers at the workshop have suggested that perceived resource constraints, emphasis on punitive rather than rehabilitative theories of justice, inconsistent donor support and poor co-ordination among criminal justice agencies all play their part.
The image of alternative sentencing as a 'soft option' is also a problem being raised at the workshop. "Some people think that even criminals in prison have an easier life than them," explained one participant.
Throughout the programme participants are developing Plans of Action to take forward alternative sentencing options in their home countries.
The Botswana Attorney-General's Chambers and Ministry of Justice are providing assistance and speakers throughout the event, which is taking place in Botswana's capital Gaborone, and was opened by the country's Minister for Justice, Defence and Security, Dikgakgamatso Seretse. The closing ceremony on 13 June will be led by the Botswanan Attorney-General, Dr Athaliah Molokomme.