Johannesburg - The government should create jobs and provide education and skills development if it was serious about fighting crime, said the SA Prisoners' Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr) on Friday.
"The government has a tendency of panicking and looking for a non-existent quick-fix for crime when they can prevent it by taking care of the people," said Sapohr president Golden Miles Bhudu.
He said people got desperate when basic needs such as shelter, food or employment were not met.
They would rather commit crime than die of starvation in a country with such a booming economy, he said.
Speaking to reporters in Johannesburg, Bhudu said it was for this reason that the government and business should pay special attention to ex-prisoners.
"When they come out of prison their socio-economic situation is worse than before.
"If they still don't have shelter and food they will commit more crime and return to prison."
In a country of about 45 million people, more than 500 000 go through the prisons every year and return to the community, said Bhudu, adding that the majority of them were re-arrested within three years of release.
"If we could reduce the recidivism rate by 10%, South Africa would save more than R1bn a year in prison costs alone," said Bhudu.
'Crime rate would definitely be reduced'
He said the safety and security department's strategy to fight crime was "not good enough and would lead only to courts and correctional services being over-crowded".
"There can be more police officers in the country, but if people still don't have jobs, they will still take the risk and commit crime, in the hope that they will not be caught."
Sapohr recommended that the justice system should engage with community leaders, and play a more active role in the reintegration of offenders.
"They should be employed, even if they have criminal records.
"They also should have access to proper support structures, or otherwise, we are sending them straight back to prison where they will have food and shelter," said Bhudu.
He said if government could provide for the poor and needy - both the general public and ex-prisoners - the crime rate would "definitely be reduced".