A Second Chance Nam condemning crime, rehabilitating the offender
Windhoek – Giving a second chance to offenders at making good and equipping them with skills that allow them to be self-sustaining after serving their sentences have been major priorities of the Namibian Correctional Service (NCS).
The correctional service has been experimenting with rehabilitation regimes for offenders, as part of its on-going effort to assist offenders successfully reintegrate into society not only as law-abiding but also productive members after completing their sentences.
As a signatory to the United Nations’ Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, and as the custodian of correctional facilities in Namibia, NCS has committed to ensure humane treatment of persons incarcerated in the country’s prisons.
The offenders’ rehabilitation approach is in contrast with the traditional imprisonment of “get tough on crime” approach, which upon release leaves offenders often poorly prepared and making it harder for them to readjust to life outside prison.
The NCS rehabilitation effort was complemented with the passing into law of the Correctional Service Act, Act No.9 of 2012 in March 2012. The law replaced the old Prisons Act of 1998, and provides a legislative framework for the modern correctional approach that the correctional service has adopted.
In March 2011, the NCS introduced the Offender Risk Management Correctional Strategy (ORMCS) – an approach aimed at assisting offenders get their lives back on track by making them better understand their offending behaviours and creating rehabilitation programmes to prevent them from reoffending.
This new modern evidence-based approach of treating offenders in accordance to their risk level and needs is currently being implemented at three correctional facilities at Windhoek Central Prison, Elizabeth Nepemba Correctional Facility and Farm Scott Prison.
The ORMCS is expected to be rolled out at other facilities, including the Divundu Rehabilitation Centre, Hardap Maximum Security Prison, Oluno Correctional Service and Walvis Bay.
The NCS is the custodian of prison facilities in the country. Currently, there are 13 correctional facilities across the country. Namibia with a total population of just over two million has a prison population of around 5 000.
The head of NCS’s Rehabilitation and Reintegration Directorate, Anna Beukes, told The Southern Times that the ORMCS is in line with modern international trends and best practices, which have been implemented in many countries around the world.
The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners implore that different categories of prisoners “shall be kept in separate institutions or parts of institutions taking account of their sex, age, criminal record, the legal reason for their detention and the necessities of their treatment”.
Beukes explained that the strategy put more emphasis on individual characteristics of each offender.
It assesses each situation to ascertain if an offender can be managed more effectively according to their risk profiles, and for correctional officers to become more focused in their interactions with other offenders, she said.
“The offender risk management correctional strategy is the first step toward reintegration of offenders back to the community, because we don't want to see a situation where persons convicted of minor offences become worse by interacting with hardened criminals while in prison.
“By doing so, we are contributing to the public safety by rehabilitating offenders. They are part of the society, therefore, we cannot run away from them.
“We have done research on best practices how to rehabilitate offenders and with offender risk management correctional strategy, we found that each offender has special characteristics and needs,” Beukes noted.
“The risk assessment is carried out for all offenders as they arrive (in prison) and this exercise is carried out by professionals, including psychologists and social workers.
“We look at personal behaviours and environment that contributed to the criminal behaviour. These help us device various treatment plans that all tailor-made for each individual offender.
“And offenders are classed according to the risk levels. For instance, we cannot put a person with minimum risk in the same cell with hardened criminals. Unlike in the past when new arrivals are placed wherever there is place in prison.”
To ensure the success of its rehabilitation effort, NCS has opened a training academy to train and equip its personnel with necessary skills and competencies to deal with situations arising in prison settings, including human rights, rehabilitation and re-integration needs of prisoners.
President Hifikepunye Pohamba officially opened the NCS training college at Omaruru earlier this year, where he emphasised that the training college was part of ongoing efforts to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the country’s correctional service system.
NCS also provides rehabilitation at various correctional facilities across the country through training of offenders in vocational skills and disciplines that include welding, plumbing, electrical and mechanical as well as bricklaying. They are also trained in farming and animal husbandry.
Elizabeth Nepemba Correctional Facility near Rundu in the Kavango Region is one of the main rehabilitation and correctional centres that focus on rehabilitating offenders through the provision of vocational skills training to offenders younger than 29 years.
The correctional facilities like Elizabeth Nepemba are not merely for rehabilitating convicts but some of them are also established farming projects that sustain the prison populations in the country.
This was in response to government calls for the correctional service to be self-sufficient in terms of food production.
Inmates at the Divundu Rehabilitation Centre in the Kavango Region have been producing a variety of agricultural produce that includes maize, wheat and vegetables since the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry handed over the project to the correctional service in 1997.
The project has been sustaining other correctional facilities in the country, including the Windhoek Central Prison in the capital.
President Pohamba inaugurated another correctional facility, the Farm Scott Prison near the mining town of Tsumeb in the Oshikoto Region on December 11. The double storey medium-security correctional facility, with a capacity of 640, is the latest addition to the NCS’s growing list of modern facilities.
Currently, 128 prisoners are incarcerated at the prison at which they are involved is various agricultural activities that include animal husbandry, crop production, fodder production, and fruit production.
The prison is built on a 5 000-hectare piece of land that was acquired from the Ministry of Defence in 1998. It boasts an assessment unit for offenders, a block for minimum security living, a shoe factory, workshop for various trades, meat processing plant, clinic, maintenance unit and sports field.
The model at Farm Scott Prison allows NCS to meet the fiscus half way in the sense that most of the daily needs of offenders are produced and processed on site.
For instance, when cattle bred on the farm are slaughtered for meat rations, the hides are processed and used as input in the shoe-making project at the farm.
NCS Commissioner-General Evaristus Shikongo said the facility was started with a vision to make NCS self-sufficient in food production.
Shikongo was appointed the Commissioner of Prisons in 1996 at a time when the prison service was used for retribution and punishment for transgression.
Under his oversight, the Namibian Correctional Service has improved tremendously in terms of prisoners’ reform and modernisation initiatives and his commitment to achieve the vision of the Namibian Correctional Service, which is “To be the leaders of Correctional Services in Africa”.
“We are steadfast in upgrading our physical infrastructure and correction practices not because we are obliged to, but because we know from science point of view that that is the most effective way to secure security and safety for our citizens,” Shikongo said.
“We believe in giving those who stray at some point in their lives, a second chance. While we do not condone crime, we also do not condemn the person. Our mission is to assist offenders to reform their ways and to redeem themselves.
“As a progressive democracy, we are enjoined by our sense of fairness and conscience to treat our inmates in a humane way. In other parts of the world, prisons are allowed to degenerate into breeding grounds for malaise and diseases.
“Here in Namibia, our prisons should be the centres of learning in the true sense of the world, where offenders are assisted to reform themselves and acquire skills that allow them to be self-sustaining after serving their sentences,” said the Commissioner-General.
After 17 years at the helm of NCS, CG Shikongo retires at the end of January 2014.