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Opinion - Are our prisons playing the correctional role?

2021-10-25  Staff Reporter

Opinion - Are our prisons playing the correctional role?
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Are our prisons serving their purpose of being rehabilitations and correctional facilities, or do they produce even more hard core criminals? Are our prisoners exposed to councillors and psychologists who can help offenders change their mindsets and be reintegrated into society successfully? Quite often than not, most prisoners leave correctional facilities to continue the cycle of violence and other criminal activities. We need programs that can help integrate prisoners into the mainstream society and curtail situations where ex prisoners repeat the same violent crimes and return to correctional facilities. 

Rehabilitation and correction of human behaviour can only take place in a suitable environment. Some crimes are committed out of anger, some out of psychological distress, some out of greed and some out of mere bad choices. Whatever the reason behind any crime, regardless of how heinous it might be, all perpetrators need proper rehabilitation to correct their misdemeanour. Such a fit, however, cannot be achieved unless the environment in which we put our prisoners is conducive. We need to understand a prisoner’s thinking and emotional state to successfully rehabilitate their behaviour and turn them into useful members of society again. 

Prisoners go through five stages of incarceration: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. These stages are derived from the traditional stages of grief. The denial stage begins from the moment one is imprisoned, and it lasts about three years. Prisoners vacillate from emotions of rebellion to withdrawal and find it hard to believe they are in prison. They find it hard to comprehend the seriousness of the situation and sometimes blame it on others. 

The anger stage occurs when reality strikes and they stop being in denial. At this stage, the prisoner may turn to bullying weaker prisoners. Bargaining transpires when the prisoner starts saying, ‘if only’. At this stage, guilt kicks in – and the prisoner is filled with frustration and shame. The depression stage is characterised by a feeling of hopelessness and sadness. 

The last stage is acceptance: this is when prisoners begin to take the situation in and realise they are in it for the long term. It is, thus, important to understand the stages the prisoners go through in order to assist them and have them fully rehabilitated, as well as to ready for reintegration into society. Without proper rehabilitation in our correctional facilities, prisoners are lost forever in any of these stages – and it becomes difficult to turn their situation around.

Our prisons are only correctional facilities by name. To begin with, the prisons are so overcrowded and devoid of any proper healthcare. It is an environment that may keep one in the stages of denial, anger and depression forever. It will be difficult if not impossible to rehabilitate such a prisoner. 

This may explain why some prisoners leave prison as hard core criminals, and they commit the same crime and go back to jail. In addition to overcrowded prison cells, the entire prison infrastructure is dilapidated – and in some cases, they are not fit for human habitation. The question is, how do we rehabilitate or even attempt to correct human behaviour in such an environment? Crime, in Namibia, will continue unabated, unless our prisons become proper correctional facilities from which men and women are transformed and then reintegrated into society with different mindsets. 

Our prisons, thus, need proper educational facilities, aimed at imparting various skills to inmates. Many people who are incarcerated are very young and do not have any careers and skills. When these young people leave prisons without any skills, then they will have no choice but to go back to a life of crime so as to make a leaving. It is high time that government considers initiating and funding well-structured correctional and rehabilitation programs in all prisons countrywide. Only then can we arrest the cycle of crime in our country.

Another area of concern within our prison system is the situation regarding people with mental health problems. People with psychiatric problems are also kept in cells, albeit not in the same sections as offenders. While it is an understandable practice that serious mental health patients be incarcerated in order to protect them and other members of society, it is the conditions under which they are kept that are deplorable. 

Incarcerating people with mental health ailments should be aimed at providing them with a safe environment that can enable healing and restoration of health. The deplorable conditions of our prisons, however, only make this a pipe dream, as the health of our loved ones is left to deteriorate day-by-day.  We need to remember that people with mental health ailments are delicate and need close attention in order to turn their situations around. It is, however, sad to note that psychiatric patients are often left for long without the necessary care of psychologists who can assist them on a regular basis. 

The question is, what then is the role of such institutions if they are not providing the care and rehabilitation for which they were initiated? There are people who have remained for years in these institutions, seemingly forgotten, as if their fate is sealed around the halls that house them. It is time our institutions and those that govern them take responsibility and develop turn-around strategies that can help these institutions fulfil the role they were developed for.

Indeed, it is time government recognises that the rehabilitation system in our correctional facilities is non-existent. We have life-time criminals because our correctional facilities do not provide correction and rehabilitation to inmates. Our correctional facilities have ironically become a rich breeding ground for criminals, as crime is all our young people learn in jail. Let us do justice to our young people and save them from a life of perpetual crime, lest we be judged for failing them.

2021-10-25  Staff Reporter

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