1999 Winner
Winners:
Eastern Cape Province, South Africa
1999
Publication:
Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust
Sponsored By:
Impumelelo Innovations Award Trust
Jurisdiction:
South Africa
The Stepping Stones One Stop Youth Justice Centre is an innovative approach to the issue of young offenders. The Centre comprises of a police station, criminal court, and a welfare section with probation officers, child and youth care workers, and a social worker. All young people who are arrested in the Port Elizabeth magisterial district are brought to the Centre where their matter is dealt with by a multidisciplinary team including representatives of the departments of Welfare, Justice, Safety and Security, Correctional Services and Health.

The Centre consists of a police charge office exclusively for young people, a youth court, probation officers, psychologists and social workers. The Centre places great emphasis on pre-trial assessment, and in all cases parents are traced in order that the children can be released into their custody, where possible. Those who have committed minor offences are diverted out of the criminal justice system, and where they cannot be diverted, the court recommends alternative sentencing options appropriate to the child's age, and provides support in the form of after-care services to prevent children from re-offending. The Court can use its powers as a Children's Court to make arrangements for children in need of care.

This approach to children in trouble with the law, places the child at the centre of proceedings, and ensures that their matters are dealt with sensitively, effectively and with the least possible delays. It prevents children awaiting trial, and those convicted, from being held together with adult criminals. The system emphasizes the principle of participation and family, especially through family group conferences, and the overall emphasis on family reunification, the idea being that a strong or strengthened family unit is the primary socialization agent and the environment most suitable to child rearing.

Operating on a 24-hour basis, the Centre alleviates the strain on the courts and places of detention, and provides a rights-based system for children in trouble with the law. The Centre has been hailed as the only child-friendly court in South Africa - a "first step" towards a long-term goal. The results of the Centre's approach and the centralization of services speak for itself. 45% of cases were finalized within one month, 35% within two months and 20% within 3 months. 95% of parents are traced, and 65% of children are released into the custody of their parents. Child offenders now move swiftly through the justice system supported by parents and the full complement of welfare services.

"Many of the children in the justice system are being punished for the crime of being neglected by their families and society. This is a first step to reintegrating them into their communities " Trudie Thomas, MEC for Welfare, Eastern Cape.

Innovation: The Centre provides a one-stop justice centre for children in trouble with the law, where all services related to young offenders are centralized in one venue, and are specialized for dealing with children.

 
Poverty impact: The Centre ensures that appropriate matters are diverted away from the criminal justice system, and where children are sentences, that those sentences are age-appropriate and constructive. This prevents unnecessary child-imprisonment and the associated risk of developing repeat offenders.
 
Replication: The concept of the Centre is easy to replicate in other urban settings. The success would require collaboration between a range of government departments and some NGO support.