Spiritual care in jails highlighted

The Western Cape department of correctional services’ three-day Spiritual Care Expo held at the Pollsmoor Correctional Centre from 6 to 8 November drew quite a crowd. PHOTO: Nettalie Viljoen
The Western Cape department of correctional services’ three-day Spiritual Care Expo held at the Pollsmoor Correctional Centre from 6 to 8 November drew quite a crowd. PHOTO: Nettalie Viljoen

Quite a few buzz words were flying around at the Department of Correctional Services’ (DCS) three-day Spiritual Care Service Providers Expo held at the Pollsmoor Correctional Centre in Tokai: rehabilitation, moral regeneration and reintegration were chief among them.

Addressing a large audience on the first day of the expo on Wednesday 6 November, the director for the DCS’s Spiritual Care division, Dr Menzi Mkhathini, said correctional services had come a long way since the White Paper on Corrections was drafted in 2005. “Today we are here to ask the critical questions: What can we do differently? What should we do additionally and what should we stop doing in our pursuit to rehabilitate offenders,” Mkhathini asked.

He explained that there had been a programme shift; that a one-size-fits-all approach is not the solution.

Instead, offenders undergo an in-depth spiritual assessment. A correctional sentence plan is then crafted which incorporates needs-based spiritual programmes suited to each individual.

“We have to structure programmes that speak to the inner being of a person’s spirit. Often we just look at the behaviour of people, but we forget various factors caused that behaviour,” said Mkhathini.

“If we can get a person’s basic values right, if we can change their belief system, we can change their thoughts. And if we can change their thoughts, we can change their feelings, and then, ultimately, their behaviour.”

In the past, rehabilitation programmes mostly focused on upskilling offenders. Deputy minister of correctional services, Phathekile Holomisa, says they have realised there is another element that is as important in the process of rehabilitation.

“For offenders to be properly reintegrated into society, we give them skills, identify the potential they have and help them to realise that potential. We give them the opportunity to get an education,” said Holomisa.

But, he said, this was not enough. As spiritual beings, humans have the potential to change. Hence the importance of spiritual care.

“Offenders have missed out on the advantages of believing in a meaningful way in God. While they are here (in prison) they are a captive audience. If ministers of religion have not been able to convert them while they were outside – they have not been able to convince them to come to church, to the mosque or the temple – they have an opportunity now to talk to them,” he said.

According to Holomisa, the rehabilitation of prisoners through spiritual care was also a way to solve the problem of overcrowding in prisons when it comes to prisoners who are eligible for parole.

“It is easier to release people on parole when you can see they have undergone these programmes and that they are no longer a danger to society. We believe it will contribute to the reduction of numbers in prisons,” he said.

Judge Siraj Desai from the National Council of Correctional Services and national Muslim Prison Board, also attended the expo. He said that he saw spiritual care as a way to address the high degree of recidivism (the high number of offenders returning to correctional centres after having completed their sentences) in South Africa.

“Various steps are taken to prepare offenders for the outside, but the problems outside remain the problems outside. We are a society with enormous societal needs and rehabilitation, in that sense, will always be difficult. All we can do is appeal to the community at large to assist DCS in continuing the rehabilitation of offenders outside of the correctional centre,” Desai said.

This was the first time an expo of this kind was held in the Western Cape and Mkhathini said its purpose was to embrace and strengthen partnerships with stakeholders that are promoting rehabilitation programmes in different correctional facilities.

“Corrections is a societal responsibility. We are here today with various NGOs and faith-based organisations. Working together with most of these NGOs, we have managed to change lives. The purpose of today is to showcase that work and also to upscale it. We believe with more support from these NGOs we will be able to change the lives of offenders,” Mkhathini said.

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