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Public Policy and the Punishment of Crime in a Divided Society A Historical Perspective on the South African Penal System

NCJ Number
Crime and Social Justice Issue: 21-22 Dated: (1984) Pages: 146-162
D v Z Smit
Date Published
17 pages
Labor programs which are ostensibly designed to rehabilitate convicts are still public policy and continue to play a crucial part in the system of punishment in South Africa, even though the use of convict labor outside prisons is declining in economic significance.
The South African penal system is the product of Western notions of punishment applied selectively in a crucial formative period in the 19th century as a rational response to the social and economic problems faced by the colonial government. From the middle of the 17th century to the end of the 18th century, the focus was on the physical punishment of the accused. Later, the abolition of slavery created the need for a steady supply of labor, and the penal system soon became involved. Reforms aimed at the rehabilitative ideal in the 1840's and 1850's emphasized the use of labor and re-education. In succeeding decades, prisoners became important as a labor source for the diamond mining industry. Since the end of the 1880's, the form and function of the system of punishment in South Africa have experienced relatively insignificant changes. Prisoners are no longer used in mining, but their use in agriculture and in the public sector has increased the importance of convict labor in the 20th century. The ideological emphasis on the value of work has remained, as has the segregation and differential treatment of prisoners of different races. Notes and a list of 38 references are supplied.