No man is an island

2012-09-01 11:50

The rape of a 94-year-old KwaZulu-Natal grandmother on July 23 and the murder of an elderly Eastern Cape farmer in August, allegedly by reoffenders, has once again put the spotlight on the Department of Correctional Services.

During the recent special remission of sentence, reoffenders accounted for less than 1% of the more than 43 000 probationers, parolees and offenders released.

Although reoffending among offenders released, on special remission, may be considered low, the department condemns every single act of criminality in the strongest possible terms. One reoffender is one too many.

We want to make sure our interventions contribute to the reintegration of offenders as law-abiding citizens by ensuring that they are rehabilitated, monitored and accepted by communities.

However, social support for those who have served time in a correctional facility is critical to helping them back into a normal way of life.

Society is guaranteed a victory against crime and reoffending if we all begin to understand the role we must, and should, play in helping the vulnerable among us to lead positive and productive lives.

My deployment as minister of correctional services has led me to reflect on our experiences as prisoners on Robben Island and to ensure inmates in a democratic South Africa will never experience what we went through.

We still have a long road to ahead to ensure that the White Paper on Corrections is fully realised.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, South Africa has by far the largest inmate population in Africa (approximately 146 000), followed by Ethiopia with approximately 85 000.

Egypt, Rwanda and Morocco come next in the 60 000s.

Nigeria, with a prison population of about 40 000, has one third of the number of inmates we incarcerate in South Africa, and an incarceration rate of only 31 inmates per 100 000 people in the country.

South Africa is about 18th on the world list of incarceration rates, and in Africa seems to have even overtaken Botswana in the last couple of years – we incarcerate about 316 people out of every 100 000.

In comparison, the United States has the highest incarceration rate of 743 people out of 100 000; and Russia the second highest, with 568 people out of every 100 000.

In reflecting on this, we need to take into account the violent nature of crime in South Africa.

We need to recognise the attitude that incarceration is the best crime deterrent is still prevalent in our judiciary.

These facts require us to think deeply about how we approach incarceration.

The contribution of correctional services to a peaceful, secure and democratic society is, in my view, very undervalued.

We have an enormous responsibility to educate the public on the importance of rehabilitation in creating the South Africa we envisage: a country that is safe for all people.

The department’s core functions are to enhance public safety and effective criminal justice through effective management of remand detention; to reduce reoffending through offender management and rehabilitation; and social reintegration through management of non-custodial sentences and parole.

Correctional centres must not be places for locking people up and throwing away the key and for letting offenders rot in cells.

They must be places where offenders have to face up to what they have done to victims; to engage with restorative justice processes; to complete corrections and development programmes; to be involved in production workshops, bakeries and farming; and to then return to their communities with skills.

When the cell door is locked behind an inmate, he or she has nowhere to turn, but must focus his or her eyes on the way out of that cell – not through escapes, but through breaking the cycle of crime and reintegrating into the community.

Corrections is a social responsibility, and our vision is of a trilogy of offenders, victims and the community in partnership to break the cycle of crime.

This trilogy underpins the moulding of a better person out of a life of crime.

There can be no sustainable rehabilitation and integration back into society outside of the trilogy.

Correctional services is the last hope for victims of crime and for many of the individuals sentenced for crime.

All offenders, except lifers considered inappropriate for parole, will return to society at the end of their sentences.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that they are in the best state to be constructive members of society
on their release.

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