Tackling the juvenile delinquent threat

Hout Bay welfare organisations and security non-profits attended an information session on child offenders at the Hout Bay library last week.

For years, a group of violent juveniles has terrorised the Hout Bay harbour, mugging residents and tourists with little or no consequence, a meeting was told last week.

The same group, estimated to number between 15 and 20 minors, are feared by many in the Hangberg community as the youths believe they are above the law.

What has compounded the issue is even though these youngsters have been repeatedly reported to police and the provincial department of social development, they have slipped through the cracks and continue to roam the harbour precinct committing crimes.

In one of the most severe cases, a 14-year-old charged with the murder of 18-year-old Ryno Solomons was provisionally released back into the community.

Only a month after his release, he stabbed another youth nine times and on Boxing Day last year, he shot 22-year-old Chadwin van der Ross in the temple, leaving him blind in both eyes (“Teen on crime spree”, Sentinel, January 19).

It was only then that the teen was re-arrested.

Police, local welfare organisations and Hout Bay security non-profits are at their wits’ end as, feeling that given the alleged offenders’ status as minors, their task of getting them off the streets has become near impossible.

Last week, these organisations, including the Hout Bay Community Police Forum, Community Cohesion, Hout Bay Cares and Community Crime Prevention (CCP), turned to the insights of two parole officers from the Department of Social Development to advise them on what can be done about the situation.

Rian Perry and Natalie Choto are parole officers in the department’s Metro South Division.

At the presentation at the Hout Bay library on Thursday June 28, the officers took the representatives of the various organisations through the finer points of the Child Justice Act, explaining the processes that must be followed as well as the various degrees of crime and how assessments are made of both juvenile and adult offenders.

There are currently 13 probation officers and nine social auxiliary workers serving the Cape Town area.

One of the key take-outs of the presentation was that in the case of child offenders, parole officers will often look at the process of “diversion”, whereby children are kept out of the justice
system.

“With diversion, the child must realise the impact of their actions. In other words, the child needs to take responsibility for their actions,” Ms Choto said.

“The courts will not divert a child or an adult if they have committed a serious offence like murder, attempted murder or rape. What we need to address by this process are the actual needs
of the child, and then we will adapt rehabilitation programmes to the diversion cases.”

Once children have been diverted, the charges against them are withdrawn. This is to ensure they do not have a criminal record.

Mr Perry explained that the extent of the offence as well as the age of the child were factored into arrest considerations.

For Schedule 1 offences, covering minor crimes, no child under the age of 18 could be arrested, except in cases where there was no fixed address, the child in question continued to commit
crimes, the child was a danger to others or the
child was caught in the action of committing an offence.

While a child might not be arrested, a parole officer assessment still had to be performed
within 48 hours and the child would be required to appear on the charge in court within seven
days.

In the event of the child having to be arrested, they should always be kept in a designated cell away from the adult population or a child and youth care centre.

“Should a child older than 14 years old have committed a Schedule 3 offence, a serious crime, they will be compelled to remain in custody until the preliminary inquiry into their case,” Mr Perry said.

“As parole officers, we spend 40 minutes to an hour with a child, and if you do the assessment the right way, you can assist them when it comes to their court appearance. Sometimes if you tell them that they will be going
home after their assessment, they
relax and will be more open with
you.”

However, he emphasised that the fact a child was not arrested did not mean no action was required.

“A case must still be opened, but we will try to do the assessment away from the police station so they are more at ease.”

Sentencing options for Schedule 1 offenders ranged from community-based service and restorative justice to a fine.

For those Schedule 3 offenders older than 14, punishment could include house arrest, compulsory residence in a child and youth care centre or imprisonment.

While the organisations’ representatives appreciated this information, they felt that in the case of the harbour Schedule 3 offenders, they had reached a dead end.

As many as nine complaints had been lodged against one boy, both with the Department of Social Develop-
ment and police, yet he was always remanded into the custody of his mother.

The parole officers recommend-
ed that in such cases, complainants
go directly to the children’s
court.

“Anyone can go to the children’s court. The person who reports the case doesn’t even have to give their identity. The court will then set dates and social workers will become involved. When guided by the courts, we have found that social workers are more responsive. The social worker then has 90 days to investigate the case,” Ms Choto
said.

Mr Perry said it had been his experience that this approach actually could be more effective.

“I actually sometimes tell parents to lay a charge against the kids, because then the kids get a skrik that this is serious.

“In Muizenburg, we had a lot of beach robberies, and police recognised a pattern that it was the same kids responsible. Once these kids had been taken into custody, some for more than a year, there was a decrease in the robberies.”

He also recommended that community-basedorganisationsbuild strong relationships with Social Development, and even if they were ignored, they continue to highlight cases where problem children were committing offences.