Are the rights of children paramount in prison legislation?
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The principle, the rights of the child shall be of paramount importance in all decisions affecting the child, is established firmly in international law and, accordingly, reflected in the Constitution. Constitutional jurisprudence acknowledges the notion that children are physically and psychologically more vulnerable than adults and thus require treatment that is different from adults when they come into conflict with the law. It is this differentiation that lies at the heart of the Child Justice Act 75 of 2008, the legislation that sets out the criminal procedure specific to the needs of children, as well as the principle that children’s exposure to the criminal justice system should be limited wherever possible. The Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998 predates the Child Justice Act by approximately ten years – a period when legislators were perhaps less attuned to the needs of children in conflict with the law. When examined against the requirements of s 28(2) of the Constitution, there are, unfortunately, a number of shortcomings in the Correctional Services Act in relation to sentence administration and remand detention. These are discussed according to the following themes: (1) remand detention of children and how this is regulated by the Correctional Services Act and the Child Justice Act; (2) sentence administration with specific reference to the parole regime; (3) conditions of detention with reference to the privilege system and access to services.