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  • Soraya Solomon greets me with a quiet confidence that makes you instantly stand at attention and know why NICRO – the South African National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, is in good hands with her at the helm.

    Soraya grew up with a father who was a member of the liberation movement and often targeted by the security forces. Her mother was a beacon for many of the gang members in the violence-riddled community in Durban where the family moved to when Soraya was a child. She would be there to feed them and clothe them, and if they were hurt, take them to the hospital. She did not judge them. So both Suraya’s parents, her father being part of the liberation movement and her mother looking after these people who society considered as criminals, were the light that lit her life’s journey.
  • “The whole issue of crime and seeing people as human beings and not criminals fascinated me.”

    Soraya initially wanted to pursue a career in law but her father sat her down and said, “You’ve got to give back to society. If you become a lawyer, you’ll be making money. What are you doing for humanity?” Soraya opted for social work instead, starting as a probation officer at the state department where she had to recommend sentencing for offenders. Although fascinated by the work and the minds of people who commit crime, she struggled to adjust to the structure and hierarchy of the department and the divisions during that time and so made her move to NICRO in 1986.

    At the time, NICRO only dealt with adult offenders. Soraya was working in the little community of Wentworth at the time where children were being exposed to gangs. She pushed for the organisation to include young offenders in its programmes and soon NICRO’s constitution was duly amended with the realisation that young offenders need help before reaching a point of no return.
  • After five years Soraya decided to move on and secured a scholarship in the United States to look at juvenile justice. At that time, South Africa did no treat children separately from adult offenders. She returned to the country in 1992 and moved to Cape Town after discovering that the man she had been with had married someone else when she was overseas.

    Soraya secured a managerial position at NICRO and attributes her move through the ranks to her creativity and thirst for innovation. She calls herself a “social innovator” – finding creative solutions to the problems we face.

    Crime is a very difficult field to work in and Soraya believes it’s a calling that requires passion. She established NICRO North-West (which has since shut down due to lack of funding) and NICRO Limpopo in 1998.
  • She became the CEO of NICRO in 2000 and re-engineered the organisation from being a volunteer organisation to a Section 21 company. Soraya felt they needed to measure their work and track their progress and impact. How much of a difference were they actually making?

    They traced the offenders who had been through the diversion programme and found that after a two year period, 92% had not returned to a life of crime, whereas with adult offenders, a large percentage tends to re-offend within the first 18 months.

    Soraya’s journey has been one of constant evolution. She’s always looking at programmes that will serve society with the focus on reducing crime and changing people’s lives. Their focus on young people has been particularly successful, with many of them turning their lives around and becoming good, law-abiding citizens.
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