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Time to reform prison services



THE state of our prisons, which the government prefers to call correctional facilities, leaves a lot to be desired.
For years, individuals and civil society organisations have raised serious concerns about the state of our prisons and the welfare of prisoners.

Despite the howls of protest, very little has been done to improve the standard of living within the prison walls. That is because the parent ministry in charge of prisons, has been seriously starved of resources over the years.

In fact, it would appear that there is very little political will to address comprehensively the pressing needs of prisoners.
We would like to believe that prisoners, since they are not a voting bloc, fall way below the list of priorities of our politicians.

There could even be sections of society that believe that a prison is not a hotel and that conditions must be tough in there to ensure that offenders learn their lesson and do not become repeat offenders.

We are persuaded to agree with Chief Justice Sakoane Sakoane that something needs to be done now to improve conditions in our correctional facilities which are in a pathetic state.
Of course we acknowledge the diverse opinions published by leading scholars on how prisoners should be treated.

This of course is a matter that has triggered fierce debates in academia around issues of correctional policy and research.

There is a group that argues that prisons should be tough so as to deter future offending and thereby act as a force for social change.
But others believe that harsher prison conditions inhibit effective treatment and could even harden the prisoners’ resolve to continue on a destructive path.

Admittedly these are very complex matters.

We, however, would like to agree with Chief Justice Sakoane that times have changed and we need to cast away the colonial mentality that earmarked prisons as a place of punishment for offenders.

We believe in the transformative power of the correctional institution. In fact, we do not think that anyone in prison is a write-off. These individuals can be redeemed and should therefore be given a chance in life.

A correctional facility must be a place where these individuals get a chance at redemption. They must be allowed to study so that they get out as better individuals.

Religion can also play a big role in transforming the prisoners’ thought processes. It has been done elsewhere and even hardened criminals have had a massive change of heart when they found God while in prison chains.

These changes will require a fundamental shift in our thought processes. Those leading our correctional institutions will need to go out to Europe and elsewhere in the progressive world to see in practice how other facilities are doing in reforming inmates.

Of course, we are aware of the limited resources at the ministry’s disposal. But with a bit of creativity, we can decongest our prisons to ensure we have only those serving long prison sentences locked up.

We cannot continue to have prisoners stay in over-crowded prisons where the government even fails to feed them properly. There have been well documented reports that some prisoners are

subjected to physical violence and even sexual violence.
These reports make demands for a revamp of the entire prison service much more urgent.

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