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Resorting to Community Justice When State Policing Fails: South Africa

NCJ Number
Acta Criminologica Volume: 18 Issue: 3 Dated: 2005 Pages: 43-50
D. Singh
Date Published
8 pages
This study reviewed newspaper reports and used a focus group to examine the prevalence and reasons for community justice and vigilantism in South Africa's emergent democracy (post-1994) when state police either failed or were perceived to have failed to provide security.
The study indicates that community justice (private police) and vigilantism (victims and their supporters engaging in actions to hold perceived offenders accountable) provide an effective response for holding offenders accountable and deterring crime in the poorer, crime-ravaged communities of South Africa. Although such a response to crime in the absence of effective public criminal justice components is understandable, it poses a challenge to the democratic rule of law and the basic constitutional right to a fair trial. A positive democratic response to crime, however, can evolve from the practices of community justice and vigilantism based on four democratic principles. First, crime is about harms done to individuals and the community. Second, active community participation is essential to the creation of a safe and healthy community. Third, those who have been victimized by crime should have an active role in determining what should be done to remedy the harm done. Fourth, the community as a whole, and not just the justice system alone, should respond to the harms caused by crime. The current trend can be steered toward democratic communities through necessary resource allocation, training, and community education, so that threats, violence, and vigilantism do not become embedded in community responses to crime. A selection of newspaper stories provides accounts of community justice and vigilantism in South Africa. A focus group composed of 26 youths (ages 16 to 23) from 8 Black townships examined these residents' feelings about crime and the criminal justice system's response in their communities. A 19-item bibliography