MOST people probably think that spending money on rehabilitation of prisoners is a waste of the country’s resources as inmates are considered misfits in society.
But the truth is that everyone of us is a potential prisoner and that aspect is a very necessary component in the country’s prisons.
Prisons Deputy Commissioner-General Aggrey Machingauta recently told MPs in the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Human Rights of an incident that happened in one rural community where a man was so psychopathic to the extent that he raped a relative who had recently given birth.
In some traditional African customs — and maybe in other cultures too — a woman who has recently given birth is discouraged from having sex soon to allow for her body tissues to heal and for menstrual bleeding to come to an end.
Husbands of such lactating mothers often refrain from sexual activity with them until they are healed.
According to Machingauta that rape incident shocked the community to the extent that when the prisoner had fully served his sentence and it was time to release him, the community including the traditional chief did not want him back.
He said this showed how much ex-prisoners were abhorred and would find it difficult to re-integrate into society, as well as the extent to which society disliked people with a criminal record.
President of the Chiefs’ Council Chief Fortune Charumbira also narrated another story to the committee of an ex-prisoner who came back to the village after release and stole from his grandparents masquerading as a pastor.
“If ex-prisoners are not properly rehabilitated, they can come back to society and cheat people pretending that they have completely reformed,” Chief Charumbira said.
“I know of a case of a man who asked to be released from prison on the pretext that he had completely changed from his criminal ways saying he was now a pastor and masqueraded as one. Two weeks later the man stole again from the same grandparents,” he said.
“One discovers that when a prisoner is released, society finds it difficult to take them back. If they are released from prison through amnesty and we see them walking down the townships one morning, society might think that they have escaped from prison and it creates problems,” Chief Charumbira said.
“There should be a systematic way to formally bring back those people into society. For example, they can be brought back through chiefs or pastors, and it is important for their families and communities to also receive counselling so that they become willing to accept those people back.”
Machingauta said previously the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) did not focus on rehabilitation of prisoners, but now things had changed and the thrust on rehabilitation was to ensure that once prisoners were released they were able to fend for themselves and become law-abiding citizens.
“We have done studies where we noticed that developing countries use case management systems whereby an offender is admitted into jail for, say, seven years and prison authorities sit down with the prisoner to discuss how he/she will manage those years in jail,” he said.
“For example, a prisoner might have been a bank teller who stole money and obviously with a prison record no employer would want him/her when they come out of jail. The person is then empowered with other skills, for example, farming or motor mechanics so that when they come out of jail they can take care of themselves.”
Machingauta said such endeavours in rehabilitating prisoners should be supported because everyone might find themselves or their relatives in jail one day and it was important to ensure that prisoners were offered good correctional services and re-integration programmes.
According to statistics released by the ZPCS, out of 3 200 prisoners that were released under the Presidential amnesty this year, about 100 have so far been re-admitted into prisons after they returned to their nefarious ways of life soon after tasting freedom.
“Our wish is to have prisoners released to society after extensive rehabilitation, but there are other circumstances that also contribute to criminal activities after release of a prisoner like economic hardships in the country,” Machingauta said.
He said that was why it was essential to teach prisoners different trades to earn an honest living after release as there were no chances of them getting formally employed even at government institutions.
“Our public relations department also started a programme Another Chance which is televised on national broadcaster ZTV to engage victims and offenders, as well as society to accept ex-prisoners when they are released.”
Machingauta added prisons had specialist teachers to teach prisoners different skills.
A 2013 report by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) and the Law Society of Zimbabwe (LSZ) entitled Re-trial Detention in Zimbabwe, however, said there were gaps in rehabilitation and shortcomings in the Prisons Act with regard to rehabilitation of prisoners.
“The Prisons Act is silent on issues to do with rehabilitation and it does not include rehabilitation as a core business of the Prison Service where an inmate is expected to come out of prison with a skill that he or she can then use to re-integrate into society,” the report said.
“Indeed being idle in prison was one of the reasons why a lot of inmates had mental health challenges. Unfortunately, rehabilitation is difficult for prisons to achieve due to lack of resources, and a lack of counselling and rehabilitation skills, and knowledge among the majority of prison officials whose attitude towards prisoners is punitive.”
They said all rehabilitation programmes needed funding, for example, inmates who needed to write “O” Level or “A” Level examinations needed money to be able to register, but most of the time the ZPCS did not have that money.
“Workshops where inmates are taught different skills have archaic machinery (equipment) that is no longer functional, thus making learning difficult. Rehabilitation programmes do not get any meaningful funding because the ZPCS is channelling most of its resources into the upkeep of inmates — a substantial number of whom are remandees. Convicted inmates are therefore deprived of the opportunity to benefit from rehabilitation initiatives — and so many of them end up becoming recidivists,” the report added.
They said it was also imperative to include parents of young offenders in counselling sessions.
“It is also important to realise that some parents or guardians lack adequate parenting skills and might actually be contributing to the delinquent behaviour of their children. While the primary focus might be on the juvenile offender, the parents or guardians must also be actively involved in the rehabilitation process to ensure complementarily of action between social workers and parents.”
Internationally, developed jurisdictions such as Australia have managed to set up rehabilitation systems for prisoners called Integrated
Offender Management which provides for the dynamic and culturally appropriate management and rehabilitation of prisoners and offenders.
According to a paper by the South Australia Department of Correctional Services, a needs assessment was conducted on prisoners which was then used to target case management and interventions required for certain categories of prisoners and offenders.
“A considerable body of research has shown that the provision of appropriate and targeted programmes that focus on effective methods of bringing about changes in an offender’s functioning may have a significant impact in reducing crime. Offence-specific programmes, provided by the Department, in conjunction with interventions such as employment, vocational education and training, health and nutrition education and life and social skills, contribute to rehabilitation and a reduction in re-offending behaviour,” the research found.
Other culturally sensitive rehabilitation programmes were also developed to address the needs of Aboriginal prisoners.
It seems just like in the manner in which people prepared for death to ensure they have a decent burial, it was also important to ensure prisons were habitable, as well as that the conditions there were humane, hence rehabilitation programmes were in place because — who knows — one day circumstances might land one in prison.
Criminal activity should, however, be avoided by all means as people’s lives and those of their families were severely affected by incarceration.