We need to invest in social workers to prevent crime

  • 22 Oct 2014

We need to invest in social workers to prevent crime – Blog

"It is time we realise the need for social workers and teachers to do the ground work with children as young as three to prevent crime, instead of battling to combat it when it’s too late." says Gareth Newham, Head of the Governance, Crime and Justice division at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.

"It is time we realise the need for social workers and teachers to do the ground work with children as young as three to prevent crime, instead of battling to combat it when it’s too late." says Gareth Newham, Head of the Governance, Crime and Justice division at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.

"It is time we realise the need for social workers and teachers to do the ground work with children as young as three to prevent crime, instead of battling to combat it when it’s too late." This is according to Gareth Newham, Head of the Governance, Crime and Justice division at the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.

A month after the release of South Africa's national crime statistics for 2013/14 showed for a second consecutive year an increase in serious violent crimes, Newham was vocal on the implications and needs for national social violence and crime prevention during a presentation at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) on 17 October 2014.

The presentation was part of a dialogue event organised in partnership between NMMU's Department of Sociology, Anthropology and History and the Deutsche Gesellschaft International Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) Inclusive Violence and Crime Prevention (VCP) programme.

Need for a new approach

In response to the latest crime statistics, the Institute for Security Studies called for a new approach to violence, crime and public safety. It recommends three focus areas to reduce crime and violence:

  1. Violence reduction strategy focused on risk factors
  2. National Development Plan and public confidence in the police
  3. Reduce aggravated robbery

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Focusing particularly on the Eastern Cape Province, Newham highlighted that over the past four years the Eastern Cape’s murder rate has been escalating. Moreover, nationally, in 80% of the murder cases, perpetrators are known to the victims and in 65% of these instances , the motive behind the act is social behaviour such as domestic conflict, arguments or alcohol and drug abuse. This shows that there is a crucial need for a different approach towards violence and crime prevention, one that does not rely on the South African Police Service (SAPS) alone.

"Arguably, the ability of the police to control crime through using additional resources to increase policing activities appears to have reached a limit", said Newham. But while SAPS budget has tripled over the past ten years, investments in social workers seem miniscule in comparison. "Police are not trained to deal with social issues the same way social workers are. Yet, government has, over the years, appointed almost three-quarters fewer social experts."

“It is necessary to move from a narrow law-enforcement approach to crime and safety to a focus on identifying and resolving the root causes of crime. To achieve this, a wider range of state and non-state capacities will need to be mobilised at all levels, which requires shifting to an integrated approach with active citizen involvement and co-responsibility.” National Development Plan: Vision for 2030

The latest crime statistics show that increasing the budget for the police and escalating numbers of police men and women alone do not lead to a sustainable reduction of violent crimes. As Newham made clear, there is a need for a new approach towards violence, crime and safety in South Africa – one that broadens the prevalent focus on reactive, punitive measures regarding violence and crime to also include strong preventative measures that address the root causes for violent and criminal behaviour.