PRESENTATION TO THE JUSTICE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
16 March 1999
Bureau of Justice Assistance
Michelle India Baird, Director
Almost two years have passed since the Bureau of Justice Assistance, a joint project of the Ministry of Justice and the Vera Institute of Justice, was launched. As you aware, the aim of the Bureau is to build the capacity within government to plan, design, implement and evaluate practical innovations in justice, launching a project a year for five years. The Bureau provides opportunities for government and court officials, prosecutors, police, magistrates, and members of the community to become innovators in justice. If it proves successful, it may become part of government in 2001.
This report provides a summary of the Bureau’s first two projects: Pre-trial Services and the Prosecution Task Force on Car Hijacking in Johannesburg and our plans for the Bureau over the next three years. The Bureau is currently completing an evaluation of the first project, Pre-trial Services, a bail administration system, and we will discuss this more in a few minutes. Last week, the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, launched the Bureau’s second project, a Prosecution Task Force to address hijacking in Johannesburg.
Although we meet with some of you on a regular basis (indeed, some of you have provided invaluable advice over the last two years) and hold a formal Project Committee meeting with the Minister of Justice, the Vera Institute and our donors twice a year to report on the work of the Bureau, I am delighted that we have been invited here today by the Justice Portfolio Committee. I think it is useful to keep you updated about significant events in the planning, design, implementation, and evaluation of our projects throughout the year to keep you better informed and more involved in our day-to-day activities.
Support for Bureau in the first two years has been provided by the Open Society Foundation of South Africa and an anonymous donor. The Bureau has also received in-kind support from the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (R250,000 worth of computer hardware and a server), Business Against Crime (toys and furniture for Witness Waiting Rooms for the PTS project), and the Consortium (donation of over R1million rand computer source code for Pre-trial Services).
The support of our donors provides funding for personnel of the Bureau, as well as start up and other technical costs associated with the design, planning, implementation and evaluation of the demonstration projects. The Bureau’s annual budget for 1999 is approximately R3.2 million.
As set forth in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Bureau and the Ministry of Justice, support for the renovation of office space and day-to-day operation of the Bureau demonstration projects, including seconded staff from justice and police, is provided by government. The Ministry also provides furnished office space to the Bureau.
The Bureau is committed to the development of a cadre of young South Africans skilled in managing and evaluating innovative criminal justice reform projects who will be able to move into government after one or two years. Our staff, some of whom are here today, is small in size (only eight members) but extremely dedicated, hardworking, and innovative. The Bureau staff is currently comprised of two Senior Planners (with the Bureau since May and August 1997), a Project Planner (since July 1998), a Director of Research and Technology (since August 1997), a Special Assistant to the Director (since November 1998), and an Administrative Assistant (since August 1998). One of the Bureau’s Senior Planners left the Bureau in February 1999 to join the office of the National Director of Public Prosecutions and we anticipate that other Bureau staff members will follow this path over the next three years.
The Bureau is currently engaged in two demonstration projects, Pre-Trial Services and the Prosecution Task Force on Car Hijacking in Johannesburg, and will select a third demonstration at the bi-annual Project Committee meeting in August 1999. Over the last two years, the Bureau has begun developing three main themes that are common to and support each of our demonstrations. These areas include:
• Broadening and strengthening community participation in the justice system;
• Creating new roles in the justice system by providing opportunities and building capacity and skills, especially IT, analytical, and project management skills, among existing justice, police, and correctional services personnel;
• Promoting innovation and celebrating innovators in justice. We are considering the development of an annual competition and awards programme for government personnel and community members who participate in our demonstration projects.
Demonstration 1: Pre-trial Services
The first project of the Bureau is a bail administration system, Pre-trial Services (PTS) that aims to help the court make more informed decisions about bail. The aim of the project is to ensure that:
• dangerous, repeat offenders are less likely to be released;
• petty, first time offenders are more likely to be released warning or affordable bail, with or without conditions; and
• victims, witnesses, and other interested members of the community are less likely to be intimidated or threatened by accused persons or others
The project is now operating at three of the busiest magistrates courts in the country. These include Mitchells Plain (since August 1997), Johannesburg (since November 1997), and Durban (since May 1998). The Bureau recently completed an report on the strengths and weaknesses of PTS through January 1999. The report indicates the need and desire for national support of PTS. A copy of report is included in your package. Ron Paschke, the Director of Research and Technology, will take you through this report now.
Strengths and Weaknesses of PTS
The photograph of the accused has been one of the most popular components of the demonstration. Specifically, it enables the Department of Correctional Services to reduce the number of remands by identifying prisoners that need to go back to court and prevents prisoners swapping warrants of detention (J7's) and escaping. It also assists investigating officers, helping them locate accused persons during investigations.
There has been some resistance of PTS among the ranks of prosecutors in Johannesburg and Durban. Prosecutors in Johannesburg Regional Court have not been using the First Appearance Reports for over two months and some prosecutors in Durban have reported that they do not trust the verification information provided by the PTS officers. A very real complaint about PTS is that it delays first appearances. While PTS does delay first appearances until 11:00 now, where the automated ECIS system is working, it is difficult to move this any further back due to the need to interview accused persons and verify information accurately. This delay is shared by every PTS system in the world.
The Bureau is currently meeting with senior prosecutors to try to determine from where the mistrust stems. Some of the resistance may be linked to real concerns about the PTS system, while other concerns appear to be linked to bigger political issues facing prosecutors, including the work-to-rule that was begun in December 1998. In fact, at Mitchells Plain court, prosecutors and PTS officers appear to have resolved their differences, and now work hand-in-hand at the pre-trial stage. Prosecutors told the Bureau on Monday that the SAPS CRIM system has allowed identification of wanted suspects and that it provides a valuable record of previous convictions for use at first appearance. Interestingly, this information appears to be used not only to detain offenders with previous records, but also to release accused persons who do not have a record and who are arrested for petty offenses such as shoplifting.
The linkage of PTS to the SAPS CRIM system at Mitchells Plain is one of strongest components of the project. The South African Police Service has approved the extension of the CRIM system to Durban and Port Elizabeth, but has raised logistical concerns about its extension to the PTS office in Johannesburg. The broad support of prosecutors at Mitchells Plain suggests that the CRIM system may lessen prosecutor mistrust and indifference in Durban and Johannesburg courts. Conversations with the police indicate a desire to integrate PTS into their systems and to provide access to the CRIM system and other police systems as far as possible.
PTS has also provided some useful data about bail decisions generally. At Mitchells Plain, the median bail amount when the PTS opened was R500. This amount has been declining steadily, and is now hovering around R250. Unfortunately, Bureau statistics indicate that a greater percentage of individuals are unable to pay the lesser amount of R250, suggesting serious economic and social problems in the area. Bail amounts and the ability of accused persons to pay have declined together over the course of the project. A collection of information about cases over a few weeks at Mitchells Plain indicates that there has been an increased release on warning (with or without conditions) in appropriate cases, which reduces the awaiting trial prison overcrowding. In June 1997, 40.3% of accused persons were released on warning. In a sample of cases collected in February 1999, 50.3% of accused persons were released on warning. This suggests that the court is relying on warning more often, which was one of the intended consequences of PTS.
Some prosecutorial resistance could be diminished by instructing prosecutors to utilize PTS reports unless doing so will cause unreasonable delay. Unreasonable delay may be defined, for example, as not more than two hours after the arrival of the accused at court. Minister Omar is speaking with the National Director of Public Prosecutors about the possibility of issuing directives to this effect.
As well, the insertion of two clauses in legislation could ensure that prosecutors and magistrates make use of the information collected by PTS. The bail legislation could be amended to formalize the status of PTS reports and to provide the legal framework in which PTS can operate most effectively. Specifically, two clauses could be attached to proposed legislation. First, a clause directing magistrates, when considering release, to consider to impose monetary conditions only if no combination of other conditions is deemed sufficient to protect the interests of justice. Second, a clause directing magistrates, in courts with a PTS office, to take PTS report into consideration in making bail decisions. At the instruction of Minister Omar, the Department is currently investigating this proposal.
The Witness Waiting Room permits (but does not assure) greater community involvement in courts and the Bureau hopes to learn from its experiences as it seeks to build a role for community members in its next project. The Waiting Room at Mitchells Plain continues to be staffed by dedicated volunteers, who have now extended their services to the police station, with the assistance of NICRO. However, one of the waiting rooms at the Johannesburg court and the waiting room at Durban appear to be under-utilised. One explanation for the disparity in use of these rooms could be the location of the unused rooms far from trial courts, and the Bureau is working with the courts to improve this situation.
The Department and the police have raised some technical concerns related to integration of the electronic court management system (ECIS) that was designed by the Bureau, with the support of the Consortium, and the Bureau is meeting with justice and police officials responsible for technology to try to resolve these issues.
Clerks and court officials have told the Bureau that the system permits the court to tell if an accused has other matters pending and speeds up finding information about a case, such as date of next appearance. The Department must decide whether the system, developed on Lotus Notes, can be integrated into its IT plans for the development of an integrated justice system. The Bureau has donated the system to the Department and they are now finalizing the technical aspects related to the acceptance of the donation.
The strengths of PTS appear to outweigh its weaknesses. The strengths suggest that PTS has demonstrated that it is a credible and sustainable policy option for addressing a number of practical problems within the current bail administration system. The weaknesses that do exist can be minimised by the proposals discussed above. PTS, in some form, should therefore be institutionalised, provided that it is given the necessary support and an appropriate policy and legal framework. The Minister has offered his support to institutionalisation, and indicated that the project would be expanded and given budgetary support in the next financial years. PTS has also been approved as an official project by the National Crime Prevention Strategy and police have committed themselves to supporting the project.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance will work with the Department and the police over the next few months to prepare a rollout plan and budget for the expansion of PTS. If all goes well, the Bureau hopes to hand over responsibility for PTS to the Department by May 1999.
Demonstration 2: Prosecution Task Force on Car Hijacking in Johannesburg
Since June 1998, the Bureau of Justice Assistance has been working closely with the National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, on the design, implementation, and evaluation of a second demonstration to address car hijacking in Johannesburg, a Prosecution Task Force on Car Hijacking. The Task Force forms part of an anti-hijacking initiative, led by the National Director, that unites anti-hijacking efforts within the South African Police Services already underway with a team of prosecutors and police detectives based in the Johannesburg Magistrates and High Courts. The initiative aims for rapid and more effective prosecution with greater feedback to and involvement of victims and other interested members of the community.
The initiative will bring two new resources to the prosecution of car hijacking cases in Johannesburg. First, the Investigating Directorate on Organized Crime (IDOC) will use the new powers created as part of the National Prosecuting Authority to investigate and bring the most serious car hijacking cases to trial in High Court. Second, the Bureau Prosecution Task Force on Car-hijacking at the Johannesburg Magistrates Court will analyse all new car hijacking and related cases, investigating and prosecuting in the Regional Magistrates Court cases that IDOC does not handle. The Bureau will support and facilitate the work of the Task Force.
With the assistance of the Director of Public Prosecutions, Andre de Vries, three Senior Public Prosecutors have been appointed to the Task Force full time and the SAPS have agreed to second two detectives to the Force to serve as liaison officers. The Johannesburg Magistrates Court has also seconded a Senior Administrative Clerk from the criminal courts to provide administrative assistance and support to the Task Force. The Bureau meets with the Task Force on a regular basis to plan and design basic operational systems to be used by the force and to develop tactical strategies to solve problems and analyse patterns in car hijacking cases.
Since March 1, all serious car related crimes from all Johannesburg Police Stations and the SAPS anti-hijacking unit, previously split between multiple courts with little coordination, are now directed to the Task Force for early case assessment. The Task Force will also direct further investigation and prosecute aggressively cases to be tried in the Regional court. Finally, together with the police, IDOC, and the community, the Task Force will analyze patterns of cases and engage in problem solving efforts to develop further strategies to prevent car hijacking. At least one police office has already come to the Task Force to request assistance with an investigation in a car hijacking case and on Monday morning, a community member called with information about car hijacking in his neighbourhood. The Task Force responds quickly to these requests, using this information to identify patterns and develop strategies.
The Bureau has also begun meeting with the office of the MEC for Safety and Security in Gauteng, community representatives, women’s groups, community police forums, Business Against Crime, and NGOs to build and broaden community participation on the Task Force, a critical component of the work of the initiative. In other countries, most efforts to involve community in prosecutions do not offer anything more than efforts to involve communities in intelligence gathering and to provide support and counseling to victims and witnesses. We hope that the Task Force will be able to deepen community participation in crime analysis and problem solving, providing important information to efforts to involve the community in other jurisdictions around the world. One of the offices at the Task Force has been designated as a consulting room for witnesses and victims and another office will be designated specifically for use by community participants on the Task Force. The Bureau will also provide the equipment and necessary technical expertise to equip and operate a video statement room. The Bureau has supplied furniture and basic equipment to the Task Force, and will assist in connecting the team to ECIS, the electronic court management system currently operating with the support of the Pre-trial Services office at the court.
Effective Collaboration with the South African Police Services
The initiative would not be possible without uniting the work of the Task Force with several existing efforts within the South African Police Services. The SAPS Reaction Field Team of the Northeast Sub-area of Johannesburg, established in September 1998, has already made dozens of arrests in car hijackings immediately at the scenes of the crimes. The Bureau has been meeting with the police to facilitate the partnership of the Task Force and the field team and the SAPS Anti-Hijacking Unit. In addition, SAPS crime analysis units are already collecting extensive data and mapping car-hijacking incidents to improve their enforcement strategies. The Bureau will ensure that IDOC, the Task Force, and these units now share their information and coordinate their work.
Time Frame and Evaluation
The Bureau of Justice Assistance will be evaluating the work of the Task Force, including its ability to speed prosecutions, produce more convictions, and improve communication with victims and other members of the community. A preliminary review of the project and its results will be made in September 1999 with a full evaluation to be completed in September 2000.
The Bureau will select the third project in August 1999 at the fifth bi-annual Project Committee meeting. We welcome your suggestions about possible future projects.
We thank you for your interest in the work of the Bureau and invite you to come visit one of our demonstration projects.