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Merits of the Zimbabwe Model

The model of community service being developed in Zimbabwe has been established in a way which largely overcomes the problems that have been identified as reducing the effectiveness of alternatives to prison. A very significant feature is the National Steering Committee. The Committee was established by the Government with the remit of developing community service but it operates independently. The membership of the Committee is a key element. The Committee is chaired by a High Court Judge who was formerly the Chief Magistrate and Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Justice. Other members include another High Court Judge, the Deputy Chairman of the Law Development Commission, the Africa representative of the Christian group, Prison Fellowship, and others representing social welfare agencies. Having such a membership ensures that the problem of persuading judges and magistrates to use community service is not a problem since the whole project is judicially-driven at a high level. Having the social welfare, ngo and other representatives whose support is needed as members also ensures that the practicalities can be sorted out at the right level.

The second important element about the National Steering Committee is that it is a working committee. Before the scheme started the members toured the country between March and June 1994 running and speaking at eight regional seminars for magistrates and all the other important local interests such as the placement providers. They also produce guidance and other literature for all those involved and give their phone numbers if anyone has any difficulties. This means that, for example, a member of staff in a special school responsible for supervising offenders on community service could ring up a High Court Judge to get advice on what to do if there was a problem. The placement providers therefore feel they are involved in an important national initiative.


Thirdly, the members of the National Steering Committee are in a position to get necessary things done. For example they dealt with the worries of placement providers by getting the government to bring in a regulation that indemnified providers against any damage done by offenders on community service.

Fourth, the instruction to magistrates to use community service for those who would otherwise be sent to prison for twelve months or less ensures that those undertaking community service would certainly otherwise be in prison. The reduction in imprisonment by the 12,000 who have already been given community service makes a real difference to the conditions in Zimbabwean prisons for the other 22,000 prisoners and the staff working there.


Fifth the local system of giving the responsibility for administering community service to District Committees chaired by the local Provincial Magistrate and involving all interested parties including those providing work opportunities for the offenders has many advantages. Community service is judicially controlled at the local level. It has the status that comes from being under the control of the magistrates and this affects the public's perceptions of it. Co-operation on the District Committees between the magistrates and the providers ensures that consistency is maintained, standards of supervision are set and local difficulties are dealt with.


The Zimbabwean model is perhaps particularly successful and relevant to developing countries because it is low cost. It does not attempt to emulate the structures of rich countries, where alternatives to prison are supervised and administered by a separate publicly-funded service. It establishes a penal model based on productive work and fruitful relationships between offender and community, rather than unproductive time and ruptured relationships. Culturally it relates to African traditions and history. Amos Wako, Attorney-General of Kenya, said at a conference in December 1995

" In traditional Africa, a criminal who is taken to prison, or who is ex-communicated from the society, is one who is actually beyond repair through societal means, or who has committed a major crime. What is recorded in our legal books as petty crimes by African standards were completely dealt with by the society itself. For example, if one stole a goat, the elders made sure another goat was paid and that was the end of the matter. The person who stole was so ashamed that he would not do it again" (Attorney-General's Chambers 1996) [1].



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