Ba­bies be­hind bars to get bet­ter start

Ini­tia­tive aims to cre­ate child-friendly pris­ons

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - HE­LEN BAM­FORD

POLLSMOOR Prison has a new in­mate – just a day old.

The mother, a pris­oner in the fe­male sec­tion, gave birth yes­ter­day, bring­ing to 14 the num­ber of ba­bies be­hind bars at the Tokai prison.

The is­sue of ba­bies be­hind bars, some of them up to 15 months old, came un­der the spot­light yes­ter­day. The Deputy Min­is­ter of Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices, Hlengiwe Mkhize, launched the Im­beleko Project at Pollsmoor, an ini­tia­tive to im­prove the lives of chil­dren locked up with their moth­ers.

Mkhize said the project fo­cused on cre­at­ing a child­friendly en­vi­ron­ment in­side the prison by con­vert­ing cells into suit­able mother-and-child units, as well as find­ing al­ter­na­tive place­ments for chil­dren once they were two years old.

In terms of the Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices Amend­ment Act, pro­claimed last month, a woman can have her child with her in de­ten­tion only un­til the child is two, as op­posed to the pre­vi­ous age limit of five.

Mkhize said the vis­its to jails had shown that in­car­cer­at­ing chil­dren with their moth- ers for long pe­ri­ods neg­a­tively af­fected their growth.

She said the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Crime Preven­tion and the Rein­te­gra­tion of Of­fend­ers agreed in a 2006 study – “The In­flu­ence of Im­pris­on­ment on in­fants and chil­dren in­car­cer­ated with their moth­ers” – that the fa­cil­i­ties ca­ter­ing for in­fants and chil­dren with their in­car­cer­ated moth­ers were a re­stric­tive en­vi­ron­ment ham­per­ing the child’s psy­cho­log­i­cal, cog­ni­tive and so­cial de­vel­op­ment.

The 14 moth­ers at Pollsmoor are serv­ing sen­tences for a va­ri­ety of of­fences in­clud­ing mur­der, ar­son, theft, fraud and forgery, and they range in age from 20 to 46.

There are an es­ti­mated 121 ba­bies in pris­ons na­tion­ally, with the most (54) in Gaut­eng. The West­ern Cape has 20 as does KwaZulu-Natal, while the East­ern Cape has just two.

The Im­beleko Project, which refers to the act of car­ry­ing a baby on the back, has al­ready been rolled out in East­ern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

The In­spect­ing Judge of Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices, Deon Hurter van Zyl, said the project’s launch was an im­por­tant step for­ward.

In­mate Fa­dia Poole, who spoke at the launch, said prison moth­ers were grate­ful they were al­lowed to bond with their ba­bies.

“We feel that the ap­pro­pri­ate age is two for them to stay with us, al­though some feel that three would be bet­ter.”

Poole said five years was too long, be­cause the chil­dren would then re­mem­ber be­ing in prison even though they had com­mit­ted no crime.

But she said they re­quested that once their ba­bies did leave prison, they would be per­mit­ted to visit their moth­ers at week­ends.

TOUGH TIME: Cindy Khu­malo, 24, walks along a 1km prison corridor to the moth­ers’ sec­tion of Pollsmoor Prison with her three-month-old son.

PIC­TURES: BREN­TON GEACH

CELL MOM: Sa­man­tha Ja­cobs, 32, with her 13-month-old son who has spent his life in prison. A project is un­der­way to im­prove the lives of chil­dren in­car­cer­ated with their moth­ers.

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