Justice dept rapped over the knuckles by MPs

The justice department has been asked to get its house in order after it presented inaccurate statistics on child offenders to MPs on Wednesday.

“Your stats must be properly coordinated and collated … You must come prepared…,” justice portfolio committee chair Luwellyn Landers told department officials after their presentation on the implementation of the Child Justice Act, 2008.

“There are still serious challenges we are facing with regard to implementation of the Act.”

According to the report presented to the committee, 75 435 children were arrested in the 2010/11 financial year, while only 15 000 of them were diverted away from the formal criminal justice system.

Committee members spent most of the morning questioning what happened to the rest. The report did not specify this, or what offences the children were arrested for.

The department could not immediately provide this information either.

Another statistic that had MPs puzzled was the total number children awaiting trial in prisons. According to the annual report, the figure provided for the fourth quarter of 2010/11 was 863. It was eventually determined that the correct figure for the fourth quarter was 288.

This further upset MPs.

“This is an annual report. A serious document. You can’t come and say that the figure is wrong,” the African National Congress’s John Jeffrey said.

He said the report and its figures were “not quite clear” about the number of child offenders, why they were arrested, what happened to them after arrest and whether those charged were assessed or not.

“So you are giving us figures that are incorrect … It’s not clear what’s happening down the line … this is not good enough … that’s just not on. Can they [the department] give more substance than vague generalisations.”

Director for child justice and family law at the department Corlia Kok admitted “challenges” with collating the statistics and said they were “working on it”.

She was not certain about what had happened to the children not diverted.

“We are still not sure what happens to some of the children. The stats don’t say, we are looking into it. There are discrepancies in the figures.”

Other concerns committee members had was that records were not being kept of re-offenders, not enough police had been trained to deal with child criminals, not enough was being done to help these children, and that correctional services could not immediately provide details on awaiting-trial and sentenced children.

Kok said one of the problems the department faced in trying to deal with matters regarding child offenders was lack of money.

“We can’t implement the Act with the existing funds. We have limited funding.”

She appealed to the committee to help the department get more funds from Treasury.

Jeffrey said the committee could not and would not ask for more money if reasons for further funding were not provided. He said the report tabled was not clear, and that the committee could probably only help with a budget review.

The department was asked to provide all outstanding information as well as correct statistics to the committee soon.

Landers warned the department not to underestimate the committee members’ understanding of statistics and information, and to compile a properly coordinated report.

“It is a concern … that anomaly of statistics needs to be addressed,” he said. — Sapa

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