Jail Alternative Proving a Hit

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK The Community Service pilot projects implemented last year as alternatives to prison sentences are making good progress. Among the four projects introduced in Caprivi, Kavango, Kunene and Oshana regions the Ministry of Safety and Security officials are particularly impressed with the Caprivi project where offenders have raised some 80 000 seedlings and also planted jatropha seeds on four acres of land. Community service was introduced last year as one way of getting smart and not merely harsh to crime, which in other places has resulted in crime reduction. The four regions were chosen because they have no prisons. This makes it expensive to transfer convicts to prisons in other regions especially when they are petty offenders. Every year, according to Deputy Commissioner and National Coordinator of the Namibian Community Service Order in the ministry, John Nyoka, the prison service admits about 1 000 offenders, a number which the ministry wants to reduce by 30 percent through other means such as community service. The District Community Service Committee in the Caprivi has identified the municipality, forests and khutas as areas of placement where offenders identified for community service can work. Here, Nyoka said, the offenders would be given tree seedlings to take with them to their villages at the end of their sentences, which in most cases are less than three months. Petty offences include common theft, shoplifting and criminal trespassing, among many others, which are committed due to poverty. These offenders are in most cases given fines, which they cannot pay, and they end up in prison. Nyoka said these offenders do not pose a threat to the community. Another project is in the offing in the same region but this time at Omega, where the ministry wants to put up a vegetable garden where petty offenders can work. Nyoka said realising that the San who are residents of Omega are not into ploughing, the project would have a good influence on them to start ploughing. “We want a vegetable garden to expose the San,” he said, adding that the project also has a nutritional component to it in that vegetables will be readily available for consumption. The Kavango has so far placed five offenders with the government garage, schools and the hospital. Nyoka said the project in Kavango started off slowly because there was a need to sensitize the residents there on why offenders should not be locked away in prisons. “This concept is new and the public is not aware of it. They believe that the place for offenders is in prison,” he added. The ministry has also placed 10 offenders in Oshakati and Ondangwa also in municipal areas and schools. However, the project in Kunene, which was supposed to be based in Opuwo, has not started yet because most offenders in the area are cattle rustlers who are sentenced to long prison terms. Nyoka said this has made the ministry look at alternative areas to place petty offenders. The advantages of community service are that offenders maintain family ties, the sentence has a healing element in that the community can see the offender paying back for what he did and if the offender is a breadwinner, they can still support their family. The success of the project will be measured by the acceptance of the projects by communities, its benefit to communities and also the number of offenders that can be absorbed. Nyoka said community service would reduce crime as opposed to long sentences, which narrows the door for offenders to go out and be useful citizens in their respective communities. In September 2007, the committee driving the community service project will report back and based on the performance of the pilot phase, the projects will be introduced in other regions as well.

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