Clare Ballard is fighting an uphill and often unpopular battle. With a BA LLB from the University of Cape Town and a master’s from Cornell University in New York, 31-year-old Ballard is on a quest to bring human rights into the criminal justice and correctional services systems in South Africa.
“As a constitutional lawyer, my interest has always been in the intersection between the law and vulnerable groups,” she says.
She joined the Community Law Centre at the University of the Western Cape as a researcher in 2011 and has just joined Lawyers for Human Rights. She has carried out extensive research and advocacy work to ensure that conditions in the justice system align with global human rights standards. “It’s challenging in South Africa,” Ballard says.
Human rights abuses are condoned in local prisons, she says, and campaigns to improve conditions often run up against a wall of indifference, as well as budget considerations. She says that offenders might not elicit public sympathy, but incarceration without rehabilitation does not reduce the crime rate.
On the other hand, countries that are successful in their offender rehabilitation programmes do see a drop in the crime rate. “I’m concerned that vulnerable sectors, for the most part, get forgotten. But we forget that criminals have often been victims of crime themselves. So you have broken people going into a broken system and coming out worse.”
Ballard worked extensively on submissions to broaden the scope of legislation defining and prohibiting torture in prisons – a lengthy process that delivered a measure of success.
“But for the most part, it’s a long road, and we see little impact immediately.” Her current focus areas include addressing the plight of awaiting-trial prisoners, sentencing practices and conditions of detention. Addressing these areas requires research into the entire ecosystem leading to human rights abuses in prison.
“You may find people awaiting trial for years as a result of court backlogs, inadequate investigations and many other factors. It all has to be addressed,” she says. — Tracy Burrows