This is in response to an opinion piece “Are our prisons playing the correctional role?” published in the New Era newspaper of 15 October 2021.
Generally, societies’ knowledge about corrections is often limited to stereotypes and misperceptions. Therefore, this article aims to educate society about the rehabilitation strategy that underpins the Namibian Correctional Service (NCS) functions. Over the last 10 years, the NCS has been on a steady path towards becoming a modern provider of correctional services. As such, the NCS has adopted the Offender Risk Management Correctional Strategy (ORMCS). The ORMCS is an evidence-based approach, which hinges on managing inmates according to the risk factors that they possess. In other words, inmates are managed “differentially” and not “homogeneously”.
The introduction of ORMCS has significantly reduced recidivism rates. As from January 2017 to June 2021, 12 840 offenders were released from correctional facilities, of that number 114 offenders were re-arrested for committing a crime. This brings the total recidivism rate to 0.94%.
Clearly, this indicates that efforts to rehabilitate and reintegrate offenders are working and should be further supported.
The ORMCS have multiple and mutually interacting components that work towards a common goal which is to manage, control, rehabilitate and then successful reintegration of inmates into the community.
The components for an effective ORMCS are as follow:
i. Unit management
The unit management philosophy is a modern correctional practice that aims to cluster inmates into smaller, more manageable groupings within a larger correctional setting to allow for effective deployment of both active and dynamic security. Inmates in the correctional facility are separated by security levels and in the NCS we have four levels of security, maxim, medium, low-medium and minimum, for instance, maximum security level inmates are accommodated in a different living unit from medium, low-medium and minimum inmates. The unit management is implemented at the majority of the correctional facilities. However, most of our correctional facilities still present infrastructural defects, which makes it challenging to effectively implement the unit management philosophy. The majority of the correctional facilities are old and were constructed in line with the colonial apartheid ideology which was custody oriented and not suitable for rehabilitation. In spite of this challenge, the NCS has made significant strides in making major infrastructural changes to the old correctional facilities and constructing new correctional facilities. This includes correctional facilities such as the Windhoek, Windhoek Female, Evaristus Shikongo and Elizabeth Nepemba correctional facilities, amongst others. The progress of renovating and constructing new correctional facilities that abide by the rehabilitation strategy has been largely limited by resources.
ii. Reception and initial offender assessment
A formalised way of processing newly sentenced inmates into the correctional facility was established. This component contributes towards ORMCS by facilitating an organised and methodical approach to admitting newly sentenced inmates in the correctional facility. It aims to provide a smooth and effective introduction of inmates into the correctional system and facilitate the timely assessment of inmates’ immediate needs, including physical, mental health and personal concerns. During this phase, inmates are also orientated on the rules, conditions and entitlements within the correctional system.
iii. Objective security classification and re-classification of offenders
With the implementation of the ORMCS, the NCS has also introduced two actuarial-based assessment instruments to offer a prediction of inmates’ security risk. The initial security classification instrument determines inmates’ initial security placement in the correctional facility, while subsequent security levels of an inmate are determined by the reclassification instrument. The reclassification instrument facilitates the physical movement of an inmate from one security level to another. Attached to the security classification is a privilege system that serves as an incentive for inmates to progress from one security level to another and to encourage inmates to behave more pro-socially.
iv. Assessment of risk and needs of inmates
Risk/needs assessment is essential for the proper identification of inmates’ criminogenic needs. The identified needs and concerns are translated into the inmates’ individualised Correctional Treatment Plans, which direct how an inmate will be managed and serviced in their preparation for eventual release.
v. Delivery of risk/needs-based rehabilitation
The delivery of evidence-based programmes to address specific criminogenic needs is a central component of the ORMCS model. Rehabilitation programmes delivered to inmates aim to address their criminogenic needs and also to support them with various concerns relating to adjustment and reintegration, amongst other factors. The rehabilitation programmes are structured and cognitive-behaviour based. These programmes seek to improve skills in areas relating to cognitive and psycho-social functioning, education and vocational skills, amongst others. Specifically, the Managing My Substance Use programme addresses substance use issues, while the Thinking and Living Skills for Reintegration programme aims at replacing maladaptive and distorted thinking patterns with cognitive skills that aim to promote pro-social behaviour. Inmates with limited education and employability as a risk factor can be engaged in vocational and educational programmes. Importantly, the risk/needs based rehabilitation and support programmes are facilitated by appropriately trained and competent programme officers, rehabilitation coordinators, and mental health officers with an educational background in social work and psychology.
vi. Community supervision
Rehabilitation efforts become futile if inmates are not effectively reintegrated into the society. Therefore, the role of community supervision in the ORMCS is to manage inmates’ risk of recidivism measured through observing inmates’ compliance with their conditions of release. This is done to navigate inmates’ reintegration from incarceration into the society to support desistance by guiding and supporting the inmate to lead a productive life in the community.
With respect to the management of inmates with mental illness, in particular, those declared as State President Decision (SPD) patients, the NCS has dedicated two correctional facilities where these inmates are accommodated and separated from the general inmate population. This is to allow for the effective management and treatment of their unique needs resulting from diminished mental capacity. The rehabilitation needs of SPD are addressed by a multiple disciplinary mental health team consisting of a clinical psychologist, nurses and psychological counsellor. In addition, the NCS, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Services, attend to the medical needs of SPD patients and inmates diagnosed with mental illnesses.
In view of the above, the NCS as part of government can strongly confirm that indeed the rehabilitation system is existent, rehabilitation programmes are being delivered to inmates and added to that, reintegration programmes as well. With all these, correctional facilities cannot be referred to as breeding grounds for criminals, but as institutions of hope for those that society has given up on.
* Commissioner Sam Shaalulange is the Head of Directorate Central Staff