In the eyes of most Basotho communities, former prisoners seem to move back and forth between correctional service facilities and the society. The situation has become appalling to many onlookers. They often wonder why a person who has been rehabilitated ends up repeating the same mistakes over and over.
The erratic behavior on the part of former prisoners moved a group of five National University of Lesotho (NUL) fourth year Bachelor of Arts in Social Work students to probe further into the causes of re-incarceration of former prisoners in the country.
Ms Sekotolane Lebellang, Ms Pharoe Limpho, Mr Shampene Pheko, Ms Sello Monono and Ms Sekhant’sa Lerato all set out to inquire about the circumstances that account for the revolving door practice of former prisoners.
Among other factors, they found that the rehabilitation offered by the correctional services might not adequate as it offered little in the form of survival strategies off-prison. They also found that communities in which the former criminals went back to were not welcoming. All these issues seemed to be exacerbated by the country’s ailing economy.
Also, during their stay in the correctional service facilities, most prisoners have their basic needs met as opposed to when they are outside. Shelter, meals and other necessities are catered for. For those convicts who went to bed hungry, were homeless or unemployed; having all they need while in correctional service units motivate their lengthened stay. If they are let out, they feel the need to go back. Unpleasant issues associated with imprisonment do not matter to them as long as they get free meals and their sanitation needs are met.
The society into which they are discharged upon completion of their service also becomes part of the problem in various ways. They continue to treat former ex-mates as criminals and ostracize them.
Many former prisoners are unable to secure formal jobs because of their criminal record and negative attitudes towards them. “It is difficult enough to get a job with good grades and a qualification, but we found that it was even worse for those with a criminal record”, Ms Sekotolane said.
This predicament then forces the former prisoners to retaliate and commit crimes again in order to go back to the familiar setting, and end up in a correctional service facility again.
Having discovered and pondered over these issues, the group of five researchers was forced into action. They felt compelled to start a program that would help the jailbirds stay out of correctional service units in the long run.
With a hope of changing the way societies think about ex-mates, they plan to actively participate in an educational initiative to make the public aware that such individuals can be rehabilitated. “So helping the ex-prisoners will also create a job for us, the social workers,” Ms Pharoe teased.
They also want to set up an agency that will assist the former prisoners to create their own businesses through skills that were learnt in the correctional services facilities. They believe that this will also add into the efforts to combat the persistent national crisis of unemployment.
The young researchers said that by advocating for an improved skills-based training in the correctional services and helping the inmates establish their own businesses once discharged, the process will have a positive impact on the inmates, the society and the economy at large.
For instance, if one has acquired or perfected basket weaving skills while detained, using such expertise when released will not only help put food on the table but may become therapeutic as well since the former prisoners will now have something to focus on. A networking system that will assist to put their products on the market will be invaluable, the researchers said.
However, the researchers said that the main challenge will be the supply of necessary training equipment as it may not always be available. They hope to address the problem by focusing on skills that require low cost equipment before considering those that require expensive equipment in the long run.
The research group is yet to find one unit which they will start working on before expanding to other facilities within the country if given permission by the officers in charge.
This blog post was originally written by NUL Research and Innovations