DOHA-supported project rehabilitates inmates

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Gobabis Correctional Facility inmates collect spinach from their UNODC, WFP-supported hydroponic greenhouse last week.

By Moses Magadza

GOBABIS – The Governor for Omaheke Region of Namibia, Festus Uitele, has commended the Namibia Correctional Service (NCS) through the Gobabis Correctional Facility (GCF), for taking innovative steps to ensure food security which is linked to health outcomes, in its facilities.

The NCS is implementing a prisoner rehabilitation component of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) through the Doha Global Programme which is financially supported by the State of Qatar. Through this programme, UNODC assists Member States in breaking the cycle of re-offending through effective rehabilitation and social reintegration. 

The Governor spoke when he visited a thriving hydroponic greenhouse at GCF recently. UNODC and the World Food Programme (WFP) supported the setting up of the project to improve the nutrition of inmates and to rehabilitate them.

“It is really exciting to see the correctional service doing remarkable things. Few people are aware of all these good things that you are doing,” Uitele said.

The Chief Executive Officer for Gobabis Municipality, Ignatius Thudinyane, accompanied the Governor, who hailed the Officer in Charge of GCF, Assistant Commissioner Saima Edwig
Kamwangha, for her “exemplary leadership” and her entire staff for working as a team.

The GCF was constructed in January 1967 and inaugurated in June 1967. Among its inmates are 80 are State President Decision (SPD) inmates deemed unfit to stand trial for crimes they
committed. They have mental health challenges and are undergoing rehabilitation.

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rom left: Ruusa Mushimba, from UNODC, Assistant Commissioner Saima Kamwangha, Officer in Charge of Gobabis Correctional Facility Bai Sankoh, WFP Country Representative in Namibia, Gobabis CEO Ignatius Thudinyane, John Serwanga from WFP and Omaheke Governor Festus Uitele react upon seeing thriving vegetables in UNODC, WFP-supported hydroponics greenhouse in Gobabis last week.

At the time of the Governor’s visit, GCF had no female inmates. The oldest offender was a 50 year-old man arrested for stock theft while the youngest inmate was a 17 year-old
arrested for housebreaking.

Kamwangha said stock theft, housebreaking, theft, assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm (GBH) and poaching were the most prevalent crimes in Gobabis.

On the hydroponic project, Kamwangha said: “Since the state has been advocating for innovation and creation of sustainable projects, NCS has embraced the appeal to meet the
government halfway in terms of food production of nutritional value to offenders.”

The first harvest was on 26 July 2019. She explained that the facility was offering services to the wider community.

“We clean certain areas every year such as the cemetery free of charge. We also clean the old age home in the wake of Hepatitis E. We have fixed broken chairs at a secondary school
and painted a girls’ hostel. Officers bought materials including paint to support these goodwill activities.”

Senior Chief Correctional Officer Saara Namupula, Namupula outlined activities that the SPD inmates undergo to modify their behaviour and promote treatment -seeking behaviour. She
said apart from sport, religion care services and basic care, different other activities and support services were offered to prevent boredom and impart knowledge and skills to help
ex-inmates once they are integrated into mainstream society.

“The aim is to address psychosocial challenges to reduce recidivism (reoffending) and relapse when offenders are discharged,” she said.
Uitele said the hydroponics greenhouse which now produces spinach, cabbages, kale, onions and green peas for inmates and for sale, was a welcome innovation given the harsh climate of
Omaheke Region which borders the Kalahari Desert.

“With the current drought and an uncertain future in terms of crop production in this region, you have taken the right decision in setting up this hydroponic project to grow various
vegetables. That will contribute to the nutrition of our inmates and community at large,” he said.

He added: “If this project becomes large-scale, believe it can benefit more staff, inmates and citizens.”

He predicted that the hydroponics project, which actively engages inmates with special mental health needs, would change public perceptions on inmates and correctional facilities.

“When some of us hear about inmates we think they are problematic people that must be removed from the community. We forget that some are in custody for mistakes and
miscalculations.”

He described his visit to the project as eye-opening.

“I had never heard of SPD inmates. I thank and encourage you for what you are doing,” he told the Officer in Charge.

He called on Namibians in general to appreciate the good work that people and facilities like GCF were doing. He thanked UNODC and WFP for their support.

“We really appreciate the impact of (UNODC and WFP) interventions in this region and the ideas that uplift the living standards of our people.”

He added: “I am really impressed. I would like to set up something similar on my farm,” and pledged to visit GCF at least twice a year to interact with inmates and staff.

“I want to be able to tell people that I learned about this from the Gobabis Correctional Facility.”

Ruusa Mushimba, UNODC National Project Coordinator for Namibia, said the Gobabis project was “exemplary, a good story to tell.”

She said as Namibia joins the rest of the world in striving to achieve Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), it was important to focus on food security which is linked to health
outcomes.

“We should also empower those who are most vulnerable. If we do not do that, we might face challenges in attaining SDGs.”

She said rehabilitation and integration of people in conflict with the law was an imperative given that inmates return to the wider community after serving their sentences.

“If we don’t empower them, or address the root causes of crime, some may reoffend. Once prisoners gain skills, they will use them to put food on the table at home and generate
income,” Mushimba said.

Bai Mankay Sankoh, the Country Director and Representative of WFP in Namibia, also visited the project. He said its remarkable success showed that UN agencies can achieve more
together than when they work in silos.

“The work done by UNODC and WFP in Gobabis clearly demonstrates that when UN agencies embrace the vision of a UN development system that delivers as one across mandates, sectors and
institutional boundaries, we can better support the government and the people we are to serve. We will continue doing business differently and deliver joined-up support to achieve
SDG Goal Two – end hunger,” he said.

He said WFP was pleased to collaborate with UNODC and work in non-traditional institutions such as correctional facilities to prepare inmates for life after correctional facilities.

“We are helping ensure food security and providing life skills to prevent reoffending,” Sankoh said.

Moses Magadza is Communications Officer for UNODC Regional Office for Southern Africa.

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