Community Prosecution

Community Prosecution – Be inspired

In a nutshell

The Community Prosecution Project was a pilot project run by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in nine sites around South Africa. The approach entailed a long-term, proactive partnership between prosecution, law enforcement, the community, and public and private organisations with the intention of solving community-based problems, improving public safety and enhancing the quality of life of community members.

What we do

In late 2005 the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) started testing a model of community prosecution. By May 2006 a pilot programme was under way that involved nine community prosecutor positions, one for each site. The model was based on existing initiatives for community prosecution in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. 

The key question informing the pilot was to consider what a South African version of community prosecutions could look like. In the NPA’s draft guidelines on community prosecution the new approach to prosecution was described as "a shift from case processing to community mending. This approach entails a long-term, proactive partnership between the prosecution, law enforcement, the community, and public and private organisations with a view to solving particular community crime problems, improving public safety and enhancing the quality of life of community members."

The draft guidelines put forward the following elements as “inherent to community prosecution”: 

  • A focus on problem-solving, public safety and quality-of-life issues
  • Inclusion of the community’s input into the criminal justice system, e.g. community impact statements that are considered during sentencing
  • Partnerships between the prosecutor, law enforcement, public and private agencies, and the community
  • Various methods of prevention, intervention and enforcement other than criminal prosecution to address problems
  • A clearly defined, targeted geographical area
  • An integrated approach involving both reactive and proactive strategies

Using the guidelines as a starting point, the NPA gave the prosecutors two years to test and demonstrate the concept of community prosecution. Their work was monitored and evaluated by an external evaluator. 

For more information, see An Evaluation of Nine Pilot Sites to Propose a South African Model of Community Prosecution by Dr Richard A Griggs.

How we do it

Nine pilot sites were selected prior to the baseline study by an internal process within the NPA. Of the nine sites, six were peri-urban, two urban and only one rural. It is also notable that two of the sites, Point and Kudumane, were already piloting community prosecution a year or more before the start of the study. 

According to the post-pilot evaluation, three types of interrelated activities appeared to generate the most impact:

Educational activities on the law
This included public outreach and working with particular government departments to improve service delivery or performance. First, empowering members of government departments in the law was found to improve departmental performance and to improve relations between departments. Educational campaigns on the law were also found to have a strong positive impact when carried out frequently and across different defined target groups within the communities. These included business owners, women, leaders, educators and learners, and out-of-school youth. 

Building strategic partnerships for crime prevention
According to the evaluation, a very effective use of community prosecutors’ (CMPs’) time was building strategic partnerships toward crime prevention outcomes. This meant using knowledge of crime prevention principles or the law to achieve certain outcomes: (1) crime prevention through environmental design, (2) improved service delivery, or (3) crime prevention activities based on partnerships with the community. 

Selective prosecutions
Selecting certain cases to fast-track and prosecute in court can make an impact, helping to create community interest in a more regulated environment. CMPs were directed to carefully balance or integrate such casework with activities that had the potential to create broader impact. 

For example, public information campaigns would see the CMPs working with other departments to improve their understanding and application of the law. This would lead to partnership-building around the issue of crime prevention and pave the way for specific changes in the environment to be advocated for. 

Selective prosecutions and subsequent successful convictions (or closures) can send a warning that crime and breaking by-laws does not pay off. For instance, closing down one shebeen in Siyahlala led other tavern owners to enter into a forum to self-regulate. The CMP then offered supporting education about relevant laws to these shebeen owners.

What we have achieved

Participating stakeholders perceived the pilot as successful overall. Of the nine pilot areas, four (Siyahlala, Mamelodi, Ngangelizwe and Windsor) witnessed a significant decrease in crime. This prompted community members to request that community prosecutions have more measurable impact. A further four areas (Mdantsane, Bohlokong, Kudumane and Point) were perceived to be safer to live in thanks to collaborative work done by the community prosecutors. The remaining pilot site yielded results that were inconclusive. 

Other documented outcomes include:

Plummeting levels of stock theft in rural areas 
Empowering community members in the law and selective prosecutions of cattle rustlers in Kudumane, a remote rural area overlapping the Northern Cape and Northwest, led to a significant drop in stock theft (from about 40-50 to two or three a month). 

Regulation of previously unregulated taverns in peri-urban areas 
Educating tavern owners in the law at five peri-urban sites led to much better regulated taverns. Once notorious sites in the target areas were considered much safer by residents.

Shutdown of illegal establishments
At nearly all sites certain cases were selected to fast-track and prosecute in court. For example, in March 2007, CMP Melis of Durban worked with police to shut down seven night clubs for breaking nuisance by-laws, holding inappropriate liquor licenses and/or not being in compliance with the license regulations. The CMP directed these cases to the community court and a financial penalty was imposed that was awarded to community projects that promote safety. 
Reduction of drug-selling in the streets
In Windsor, the SAPS sector manager (who was mentored in crime prevention principles and by-law infractions by a community prosecutor) became so proactive in patrolling that the drug sellers and by-law violations that were visible on the streets at the time of the baseline study were no longer evident at the time of the evaluation. Windsor appeared much cleaner and more regulated. 

Top hijacking hotspot removed from SAPS priority list 
In Mamelodi, the worst hotspot for hijacking at the time of the baseline study was dropped from the SAPS hotspot list because the CMP worked with a municipal councillor to see that the land was developed and better street lighting was installed.

Two important steps were taken to ensure consistent results and observation. Primarily, the baseline study made it possible for the evaluator to observe, through documentation and photographs, the conditions before and after the community prosecutors began their work. This made it possible to identify and document some of the more visible changes that had taken place at each pilot site. 

To collate information and final results, a similar but longer evaluation process was undertaken from June to August 2007. This process included stakeholder questionnaires, site observations, and formal and informal interviews of up to four days at each site. 

Continuous monitoring also took place in the time period between the baseline and evaluation studies. The evaluation of environmental change was thus documented over a period of 15 months.

What we have learned

The evaluation of the pilot identified a number of challenges, such as: 

Limited resources allocated to the various pilot areas meant that the outreach of the project could not be as extensive as the NPA and various stakeholders would have liked. However, the partnerships and community mobilisation that resulted did have significant positive impact. 

Lack of understanding of the CMPs’ role highlighted the importance of education and information regarding community safety projects. In some cases it was thought that the holistic approach overstepped some boundaries in roles and responsibilities. This required educating others on the scope of the initiative. 

Although the pilot appears to have demonstrated a successful approach, the initiative has not been continued or expanded. The reasons for this are unclear.

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