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On the spot - Female offenders doing it for themselves

2021-03-05  Paheja Siririka

On the spot - Female offenders doing it for themselves
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New Era’s Paheja Siririka recently sat down with Namibian Correctional Services senior superintendent responsible for the mental health and special needs offenders’ division Stefan Theron to find out more about the plight of female offenders currently serving jail terms at the Windhoek Correctional Facility. The interview also looked at the rehabilitation process that leads to the reintegration of offenders back into society.

PS: In terms of rehabilitation, how are the women progressing?

ST: The NCS has adopted the Offender Risk Management Correctional Strategy (ORMCS), which hinges on managing offenders according to the risk factors that they possess. Accordingly, various rehabilitation programmes are delivered by the NCS to offenders in line with their criminogenic needs and also to support them with various concerns relating to adjustment and reintegration, amongst other factors. Currently, one of the programmes being delivered to female offenders is the Motivating Offenders to Rethink Everything programme, which is a multi-purpose programme with the central aim of initiating some possible change in adult or youthful offenders. Another support programme offered to female offenders is the Gender-Based Violence programme. This is a psycho-educational programme, which aims to increase offenders’ awareness of matters related to gender violence. 

Furthermore, a Restorative Justice programme is availed to offenders, which aims to restore the harm done to the victim and the communities that have been harmed through reconciliation efforts between the perpetrators and the victims of their offences. 

Female offenders with limited education can also participate in educational programmes such as the Functional Literacy Programme, Adult Upper Primary Education, and Namcol. Finally, offenders can also participate in numerous skill-building projects such as tailoring, gardening, basket weaving, jewellery and bead making. Recently, a hydroponic project was introduced at the Windhoek Female Correctional Facility.

PS: Please explain the whole rehabilitation process.

ST: Upon arrival into the correctional facility, offenders are admitted into the Reception and Assessment unit. In this unit, offenders are formally processed into the correctional facility. Various assessments are conducted, including security risk assessment to determine the offender’s initial security placement in the correctional facility and criminogenic risk assessment. Offenders are orientated to the rules, conditions and entitlements within the correctional system, the general procedures that the NCS follows, the services they can access, and the expectations of appropriate behaviour that will be enforced by correctional staff.

Offenders then proceed to the living units based on their security risk and offender correctional treatment plans are then developed. In the living unit, offenders will be managed and exposed to rehabilitation programmes and activities based on the risk factors they possess. For example, if an offender has a substance abuse issue, their correction treatment plan will attempt to address the risk associated with substance use. When approaching release, such an offender would be directed to participate in the substance use management programme to mitigate the identified risk. This process is facilitated by a case management officer, though other unit management staff members also assist with observation and analysis of the offender’s behaviour on an ongoing basis throughout the entire period of incarceration. The risk/needs-based rehabilitation programmes are facilitated by appropriately trained and competent programme officers, rehabilitation coordinators, education officers, religious care officers and vocational instructors. 

Rehabilitation efforts become futile if offenders’ reintegration concerns and needs are not effectively managed. Preparing offenders for release is, thus, important to intensify the focus on reintegration concerns and needs when offenders are approaching release. The pre-release phase prepares offenders for successful re-entry by providing reintegration-focused activities and services that support their smooth transition from the correctional facility into the community.

Community supervision is the end line of a correctional process that deals with offenders released conditionally to serve the remainder of their sentence in the community after having served a portion of their sentence in a correctional facility. Risk management in the community is measured through observing offenders’ compliance with their conditions of release. The role of managing offender risk in the community is assigned to community supervision officers. A community supervision officer navigates an offender’s reintegration from the point of their release into society to support the resistance by guiding and supporting the offender to lead a productive life in the community.

PS: How many women does the facility have and what are some of their sentences or convictions. Also, highlight the crime that these women are mostly in for?

ST: As of late February 2021, the Windhoek Female Correctional Facility (WFCF) recorded a population of 107 female offenders. Depending on the offence committed, sentence lengths for the offenders at the WFCF range from a month to 30 years. 

The most common offence committed by female offenders at the WFCF is murder, more specifically, the murder of an intimate partner, followed by the murder of a biological child. The majority of female offenders tend to be involved in domestic abuse characterized by patterns of violence, coercion and control, which preceded the murder. Compared to male offenders, who are statistically more likely to kill strangers or acquaintances, female offenders are most likely to murder someone close to them such as an intimate partner, child or close family member.

PS: What is their age range?

ST: According to the demographic data collected on female offenders at the WFCF on 25 February 2021, the majority of female offenders fall within the age group of 30- 39 years. This reveals that most female offenders are in middle adulthood. This age group otherwise can be contributing meaningfully to Namibian society. Although, elderly female offenders between the ages of 60 – 65 constitute only 1% of the female offenders at the facility. Elderly offenders present unique needs due to their advanced age and the changes associated with it.

PS: Are there children in prison and have any of them given birth while incarcerated?

ST: Yes. Currently, there are seven at the WFCF. And yes, some women have given birth in prison. However, due to the lack of the necessary obstetric equipment and specialised medical staff in midwifery required to facilitate the successful delivery of a baby, female offenders who are due for delivery are transported to the state hospitals for efficient service delivery. This is done to protect the safety of both the mother and child.

PS: What is the policy surrounding giving birth in prison and what happens to the children who reach the age (two-years-old) of not being with their imprisoned mothers?

ST: The Namibian Correctional Service (NCS) Act 9 of 2012, section 62 and the NCS Health Policy, section 3.10 direct the treatment of expecting female offenders and infants. Most recently, the NCS has also made the necessary amendments to the existing standard operating practices that pertain to the management of offenders to make them more responsive to the unique needs of female offenders.

The NCS strives to ensure that female offenders maintain a mother-child bond in the first two years of the child’s life. Beyond the age of two, continuous exposure to correctional settings is deemed detrimental to the child’s psychological well-being. The most preferred option when transferring the child out of the correctional facility is to send the child to live with the family. However, in cases where the family is unable to take care of the child, orphanages and care centres may become the only alternative. Therefore, once a female offender delivers a child, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Child Welfare (MGECW) is notified. The MGECW then contacts the mother to start the placement process by identifying the most ideal guardian and placement for the child.

PS: How ready are the ones whose terms have ended; do you have positive stories of former inmates who have integrated well into society?

ST: Our efforts are generally geared towards successful reintegration and that we have numerous cases of females that have integrated well. One particular case is a female offender who applied entrepreneurial skills learnt in corrections to start a business selling clothes after release from corrections with support from family members. The business now serves as a source of income for the offender and her family. Generally, female offenders have better reintegration outcomes, than male offenders. 

Female offenders are typically the primary caregivers and when offered the appropriate training and educational support, they can lead pro-social lives, which not only aids them in living a crime-free future but also aids in uplifting the lives of their children and loved ones. 


2021-03-05  Paheja Siririka

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