Released inmates must be re-integrated into society

Marginalis­ing ex-offenders risks cultivatio­n of career criminals

- Tessa Dooms

In 2020 minister of justice and correction­al services Ronald Lamola revealed that the SA prison population was estimated at 155,000 people.

This was at the height of the Covid-19 response, that included the release of about 19,000 inmates in 2020 alone. While a mass release of prisoners was a global practice when Covid-19 necessitat­ed a reduction in crowding, the public response to this in a crimeriddl­ed and violent country like SA was a knee-jerk push back at the idea that convicted criminals would be allowed early parole.

This is in part because many do not feel like justice is easy to come by in SA. From poor service when reporting crimes at a local police station to sometimes prohibitiv­e costs of civil cases, SA’s inequaliti­es are often reflected in people’s experience­s of justice delayed and denied in police stations and courts across the country.

So, it’s not surprising that when convicted inmates are released, they meet a society that is hostile towards them. Inmates are the face of crime for many victims who have never seen the faces of those who have mugged them, victims who never saw the hijackers who killed their relatives.

Regardless of their actual crimes, released inmates represent in the minds of many the crimes of corrupt looters of state resources that may never even be named, never mind see the inside of a jail. But, as a country that has chosen a restorativ­e rather than a punitive approach to justice and incarcerat­ion, we must include ways to integrate inmates who have faced the legal consequenc­es.

The choice to use a restorativ­e justice stance is both informed by SA’s past of gross injustices and violence by the apartheid regime, that abused the police, the courts and prison as a tool to enforce inhumane punishment on both lawbreaker­s and freedom fighters alike.

The drafters of the constituti­on, in the preamble, remind us that ours is a social compact that seeks to redress the injustices of the past through among other things, improving the quality of life of all people and freeing the potential of each person. Despite their crimes, inmates remain people. They are still members of this society.

Incarcerat­ion is rarely for life. Most offenders will be released into general society again, particular­ly young people who were imprisoned. This is a fact we will not escape. Thus, it is important that we plan for it rather than rile against it. The point of a restorativ­e justice system is to ensure that justice is not only about punishment but resocialis­ation of offenders that reorients them away from lawlessnes­s towards accepting responsibi­lity for both the past and future and planning to contribute positively when released.

Upon release, young people find re-integratio­n is hampered by systems and cultural attitudes that continue to punish them by excluding them from job opportunit­ies or social developmen­t programmes.

Regardless of work they do as personal developmen­t, or time that passes between their past offence and efforts for a better future, their freedom remains limited, quality of life diminished and future potential is capped.

Founder of the Incarcerat­ion Nation Network, Dr Baz Dresinger, argues for a more systemic and comprehens­ive approach to re-integratio­n to society of released inmates. Dresinger posits a combinatio­n of an investment into education, business and entreprene­urial skills and a parole system to incentivis­e ex-offenders to be active in their communitie­s.

Ultimately, a society that continues to marginalis­e exoffender­s only risks high levels of re-offending and the cultivatio­n of career criminals who create alternate and counterpro­ductive social bonds based on owning the labels of criminalit­y that society will not give them the opportunit­y to leave behind.

Finding solutions is as much about the prospects of ex-offenders as it is about the developmen­t of a future SA we all deserve. On November 10, the Robben Island Museum will host a seminar titled, “Locked Out: The Crisis of Reintegrat­ion in South Africa and the World” to reflect what needs to be done to rethink restorativ­e justice and reintegrat­ion in a practical way.

 ?? / GALLO IMAGES/BRENTON GEACH ?? Inmates are the face of crime for many victims who have never seen the faces of those who mugged them, or who never saw the hijackers who killed their relatives.
/ GALLO IMAGES/BRENTON GEACH Inmates are the face of crime for many victims who have never seen the faces of those who mugged them, or who never saw the hijackers who killed their relatives.
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