According to Business Day, in Johannesburg, South Africa's prison population is expected to rise by 40,000 over the next 10 years. Two laws are partially to blame for this increase.
The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1997 provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of five, seven, 10, 15, 20, 25 years or life for offenses ranging from theft and corruption to rape and murder. Also included in the law are a number of features designed to keep magistrates and judges from undermining the intended severity of the sentences.
The Magistrates Amendment Act extends the sentencing jurisdiction at the magistrate's court, at both district and regional levels, by increasing the maximum penalties each court can impose. The increases in sentencing severity may be to blame for the increasing prison population.
Business Day cites an article in South African Crime Quarterly by Michael Tonry (pictured), professor of law and public policy at the University of Minnesota, who claims sentencing and punishment have little discernible effect on crime trends and patterns. In comparing sentencing policies and punishment practices between countries, Tonry finds South Africa's correctional system is very similar to that of the U.S., with a shared love for overcrowded prisons and comically long prison sentences.
One of the reasons typically given for mandatory minimum sentencing is that it levels the playing field, but Tonry says there's no evidence to support that claim. "The primary function of such sentences is for governments to symbollically say 'we are doing something about crime'. This does not fool anybody. The percentage of people who say they are fearful to go out at night before and after the imposition of madatory sentencing does not seem to change," Tonry told Business Day.
To read the full article, go here.