LUSAKA, Zambia – The Commissioner-General of the Namibian Correctional Service (NCS), Raphael Hamunyela, says his department is working hard to uphold the rights of inmates as it strives towards being Africa’s leader in the provision of correctional services that empower offenders to effectively reintegrate into society as law-abiding citizens.
Hamunyela said this in remarks made on his behalf by Commissioner Sam Shaalulange, the Head of Directorate Central Staff in NCS, during a meeting on enhancing prison reform work in the SADC region that took place last week in Zambia.
Hamunyela said one of the first tasks for NCS after independence was to begin changing fossilized attitudes of officers steeped in punitive incarceration practices.
“We inherited a system that was full of human rights violations against prisoners, an archaic and dilapidated infrastructure designed for punishment, a poor organisational image, a lack of much needed skills and overcrowding,” he said.
He said NCS turned to Corrections/Prisons Associations such as the Conference of Eastern Southern Central African Heads of Corrections (CESCA), now the African Correctional Service Association (ACSA) and the International Corrections and Prisons Association (ICPA), for best practices which were adapted to the Namibian context.
He stated that NCS began engaging political principals for support, changing legislation, its salary structure, constructing modern facilities and renovating existing ones while recruiting specialised staff including social workers, psychologists, teachers and pastors.
“Very importantly, we started creating partnership with various civil society organisations and other stakeholders including the UNODC, because we noticed that our mandate is not achievable without concerted effort,” he explained.
Hamunyela said to achieve humane custody of offenders, NCS had incorporated the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners which are popularly known as the Nelson Mandela Rules in its policies, strategies, practices and trainings.
“The NCS has ensured that the Nelson Mandela Rules form part of its strategic plan. One of the three strategic pillars of the NCS is Security and Facility Management. Under it is Humane Custody and Compliance to the Nelson Mandela Rules.”
He said welfare services for offenders, healthcare, rehabilitation, alteration and maintenance of infrastructure as well as food provision were taken seriously while training of staff was a key priority.
“It is critical for staff to know the importance of what they are doing and why they are doing it in the context of human rights and the effective rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders,” Hamunyela said.
In building the capacity of its human resources, he said NCS was collaborating with UNODC to train trainers to ensure that knowledge and implementation of the Nelson Mandela Rules reached more officers.
“Forty-five trainers of trainers were trained. So far out of the 2550 correctional staff in NCS, 400 mainly custodial staff were trained. Training is still ongoing. Compliance assessment on Nelson Mandela Rules was conducted at all correctional facilities in Namibia, again with the assistance of the UNODC.”
He said NCS scored well in areas such as the material conditions of imprisonment, security and discipline as well as healthcare.
“Some of the positive results are attributed to our collaboration with UNODC, particularly in healthcare - development of a Health Policy, resourcing of our health clinics and ambulances, training and many other initiatives,” the Commissioner General said.
To remain abreast of issues affecting inmates in NCS facilities, annual inspections were conducted by the Performance Assurance, Monitoring and Evaluation Directorate.
“We also have a good relationship with the judiciary and the Office of the Ombudsman where judges regularly conduct inspection visits including interviewing offenders and recording complaints.”
Hamunyela argued that compliance to the Nelson Mandela Rules can improve respect of human rights and the dignity of offenders, while efforts to improve and maintain compliance can cultivate better interpersonal relationships between officers and offenders, institutional peace and an environment fit for rehabilitation.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) partnered with the Zambia Correctional Service and the SADC Secretariat to organize the meeting, which brought together commissioner generals of correctional/prison services from the SADC region.
Ms Kealeboga Moruti, a senior officer under Public Security at the SADC Secretariat underscored the importance of law and order in achieving socioeconomic development. She commended correctional or prison services for playing a critical role in this regard.
Moruti said as the SADC region facilitates the movement of persons and goods to promote economic growth, it was important to ensure that as borders are opened, criminal activities that include smuggling, illegal trade including that of firearms and terrorism were prevented.
“While other law enforcement agencies can arrest offenders in these areas, it is the correctional or prison services that keep them off the streets for rehabilitation and reintegration,” Moruti said.
She hailed collaboration between SADC and UNODC under a regional programme on making the SADC region safer from drugs and crime. She said the programme had made progress in several areas related to reforming correctional or prison services in different member states.
She cited a baseline study to assess compliance with the Nelson Mandela Rules done in Malawi, a rapid assessment of the national penitentiary services in Mozambique to determine compliance with United Nations normative guidelines in mainstreaming sexual and reproductive health rights programmes in prisons and other activities as examples of work done under the regional programme.
“A lot of work is going on in different member states, thanks to UNODC, which remains a critical partner,” she said.
While calling for a “united voice on prison reforms in the SADC region”, Moruti welcomed the recent elevation of the prisons sector as a Sub-Committee of the Organ on Politics, Defense and Security of SADC.
“This elevation was an achievement. The sub-committee has already prioritized the development of a strategic plan to forecast strategic activities which are clear and time-bound.”
The meeting, which took place on the sidelines of the SADC Ministerial Organ for Politics, Defense and Security, sought to sensitize SADC member states on UNODC’s prison reform agenda and to streamline partner support towards prison reform work in the region.
The Embassy of Sweden in Lusaka, which funds some of UNODC’s work, was represented at the meeting. It called for greater partnerships among correctional services and likeminded stakeholders.
*Moses Magadza is the Communications Officer at UNODC Regional Office for Southern Africa.
2019-08-01 07:15:37 24 days ago