The shaping of legal consciousness through the experience of short-term incarceration

Presented by Thato Masiangoako

Monday, 16 October, 2017 - 15:00

South Africa’s legal system forms part of the lifeline of its democratic dispensation and is the foundation upon which it depends. It is crucial for social demands for service delivery, ensuring protection and general relief from the state for civil society. However, whilst being home to one of the ‘greatest constitutions in the world’, South Africa is also notorious for police brutality, corruption and a criminal justice system that is under great strain. The apparent gap between the normative conceptions of the law and the experience of being subjected to the criminal justice system forms the crux of this study. This research looks at how student activists, community activists and migrants in Johannesburg experience and understand the law in South Africa based on their arrests and short-term incarceration. This work introduces the concept of legal consciousness to the South African context whilst also drawing very heavily from the South African literature on the criminal justice system. The research relies on the experiences of arrest and brief imprisonment shared by the individuals included in the study to develop a rich account of the development of legal consciousness in South Africa. It also sheds light on some of the ways in which the criminal justice system sustains it legitimacy within a post-apartheid and democratic framework despite the various gaps. I argue that the ways in which these individuals make sense of their experiences of short-term incarceration and the law, more broadly, is closely bound to their political identities thus calling into question the core values of equality and dignity that undergird the South African constitution.

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