Saturday, 1 July 2017

Discrimination on basis of criminal record

DISCRIMINATION IN EMPLOYMENT ON THE BASIS OF CRIMINAL RECORD

South Africans who have a criminal record are most likely to face significant barriers in their reintegration and full participation in the society. NICRO has found that securing full time employment is one of the greatest difficulties for former offenders. There is a serious lack of empirical evidence on recidivism in SA, but estimates have been made of between 66-95% return to prison (McAree, T. 2011; Schoeman -2003 in Van Wyk 2014:15). Employment is a key factor in the reintegration or offenders and a resource for turning the lives of ex-offenders, their families and society around, YET it is the most elusive! Harsh and punitive attitudes of society can be a key factor. Shut off from legitimate job opportunities, former offenders  may resort to illegal ways to survive. A stable family life can provide an ex-offender with the support and encouragement to stay crime-free, but relations with family members are often strained due to former offenders not being able to bring in income.

On the 17th March 2017, in commemoration of Human Rights month, NICRO partnered with the Western Cape Government -Department of Labour to host a seminar entitled “ Equal opportunity for work-seekers at risk,”  looking particularly at discrimination in employment for those work-seekers with a criminal record. The purpose of the session was to promote Public Employment services in terms of the fair selection and recruitment practices within the realm of equal opportunities; to ascertain some of the practical difficulties faced by employers and employees when a person with a criminal record seeks to participate in the workplace, and to seek the views and ideas of all stakeholders as to what needs to be done to eliminate instances of discrimination and increase the intake of former offenders.

The source document upon which the discussion centred was on information drawn from the United Nations, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Discussion paper, December, 2004, on, “Discrimination in employment on the basis of a criminal record.” There had been a significant number of complaints to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in recent years from people with a criminal record alleging discrimination in employment. The complaints also indicated that there is a great deal of misunderstanding by employers and employees as to what amounts to discrimination on the basis of criminal record.

The principle of non-discrimination is all about removing stereotypes and allowing individuals to participate fully in society on the basis of their individual merits rather than be judged by the characteristics that are attributed to them through generalizations.  It is about ensuring that they have the same opportunities as others to participate in society. In South Africa, employment practices appear to show a standard blanket criminal record prohibition in employment. A person may apply for a job, but as soon as they declare they have a criminal record, they are likely to be automatically disqualified from proceeding with the application.


According to the UN document, like many other areas of discrimination, the issue of discrimination on the basis of criminal record involves a careful balancing of rights. On the one hand former offender have served their time and paid their debt to society. They have the same right to seek employment as any other member of the community. On the other hand, there may be certain circumstances where a person with a particular criminal record poses an unacceptably high risk if he or she is employed in a particular position.  The UN Commission’s position is clear that in order to determine whether it is appropriate to exclude people with criminal records from certain areas of employment, the inherent requirements of a particular job must be identified and there must be careful consideration about whether a particular persons criminal record would disqualify him or her from properly meeting these requirements. NICRO is keen to form partnerships to address this issue.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Empowering Youth to Beat the Odds: A National Priority for South Africa

16 June 2017


Imagine a South Africa where every at-risk underprivileged youngster has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.  A South Africa in which the starting line for each youngster is at the same point from the finish line, and in which each has the same quality and quantity of training in preparation for the race. 

Today, with most economists agreeing that South Africa is the most unequal country in the world, this utopian dream seems as out of reach as it was 41 years ago, when Hector Pieterson and at least 175 other youngsters died for similar ideals.

At NICRO, we deal with the social consequences of that inequality on a daily basis. 

The childhood profile of the average juvenile offender we work with is something like this: born into a poor and broken community, dysfunctional parental influences (with parents either working far away or simply absent, whether literally or metaphorically), exposed to emotional, physical and/or substance abuse and violence from a young age, inappropriate male role models (family members who are gangsters, criminals and/or addicts), lack of structure and discipline in the domestic environment, lack of play and creative physical spaces, and the product of a sub-standard education system that is neither designed nor able to plug all the gaping holes in that child’s survival armour.  What chance does a youngster have to make it with that sort of start in life?

It is at this tipping point that NICRO’s Youth Justice Programme intervention is critical.  Armed with the newly-acquired social skills and tools (which many of us take for granted as a product of a normal childhood), vulnerable youngsters are empowered to choose to change their lives for the better. 

Not all of them do: some go back to the safety of what they know, and perpetuate a lifetime cycle of crime and imprisonment, with the negative cumulative impacts on their families, communities, taxpayers and society at large. But the majority of NICRO’s juvenile offender clients do choose to beat the odds, and make different decisions, better decisions.  They choose to rewrite their life stories.

So successful are our juvenile offender interventions that NICRO is advocating for national-scale, similarly-designed psycho-social behaviour change interventions for at-risk youth, way before they enter the criminal justice system.

NICRO believes that a specialised and intensive focus on life skills (defined by WHO as ‘abilities for adaptive and positive behaviour that enable individuals to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of everyday life’) is a critically important component of a holistic education.

Without it, we are setting up our youth to fail.  

Science and maths alone will only take them so far.  Turning that knowledge into successful income generation and a stable family and community life requires an investment in their personal development, equipping them to deal with the multitude of perils an underprivileged young adult faces in South Africa.

Crime costs South Africans about R1.84 trillion a year, or roughly R34,160 per citizen (Institute for Economics and Peace, 2016).  Large-scale investment in youth life skills (so it becomes a well-resourced, foundational tenet of national education policy) is a cost-effective and efficient way of reducing this economic burden. 

It is also a cost-effective means of beginning to address the rampant inequality gnawing away at our dreams of national prosperity, and of equipping current and future generations of youth to reach their dreams and achieve their full potential. 

Again, imagine a South Africa where every at-risk underprivileged youngster has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.



Belinda Bowling is NICRO’s Head of Business Development and Marketing.