Prisons are legal confinements where people who are guilty of breaking the law spend some time supposedly to pay for their crimes; to reflect, make amends and become better people. African prisons more than ever need to make the reformation of her prisons a priority. The prison facility is called a correctional because like the name implies, there is a central idea of trying to correct these faulting personalities where need be.
The natural law and the legal state constitution, both value the life of the citizens whether good or bad. It is a thing of joy and huge practical statement that an ex-convict became a source of inspiration to others who are liable to similar mistakes and consequent torture. Everything about the African prison needs a touch of renovation; from the rickety and dilapidated buildings to the negligence and non-nonchalant attitudes of the officials; questionable practices, all need to be addressed.
Rehabilitation is a necessity in Africa. Prisoners are not the worst set of people in the world, they are people who reached their limits and probably could not endure anymore. Sometimes the only difference between them and lot of people is that they got caught. Some African prisons are a lot worse than the rugged ghettos that you know- congested with people who are arbitrary detained; poor basic amenities that should promote the sanity and conduciveness of the environment.
We plead for a reformation in the criminal justice system of most African countries; we also hope that our prison are put in order so that the essence of our correctional will be met and the effect seen. In the absence of a proper revamping of the administration of the prisons, and a visible concrete reformation, many things will be jeopardized, for instance we will never stop wondering if these offenders actually receive the appropriate make over that qualifies them to re-enter the society or if they grow thicker skins, and harden up the more or leave more traumatized?
These ills are not restricted to one particular country but in very many African countries, Rwanda, ranking as one of the world’s worst prisons, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Equatorial Guinea, Burundi amongst others. In Kenya, we have over 3000 inmates sharing the prison space of only 800 prisoners.
1. Structural Reform
The Egyptian masons believed that their structural works have a way of directing the minds and affairs of their society, this article likens this philosophy to the anticipated good of a tangible structural reform in most African prisons- reconstructing the mental health and disposition of inmates. With what we have in many African countries, it is obvious they do not share the same perspective at least not in the practical sense of it.
2. Provision For Professional Rehabilitation
Another word for the prison is the penitentiary, meaning is not just about the retributive concept of getting it rough on the inmates. Since the idea is to redirect their criminal tendencies, their transformation is of utmost concern. Of what use is it to anybody that after years behind bars, people come out and somehow become worse than they did before? In other words, they should not be the same old sociopaths and psycho-paths by the time they are released.
Prisoners need to understand there is beauty in the world especially those who were incarcerated because of frustrations from abject poverty. While there is no acceptable excuse for breaking the law, it is good we concentrate more in making them understand the essence of serving that period of time in hard labor.
The only reason why a ruffian from the ghetto is only bothered about money and food at whatever cost is because of what he wakes up to every blessed day, perhaps if he woke up from a considerably sane environment, things could be different. On the other hand, some other person from the slums can turn out successful because of an exposure to a different way that life works, and not because they both do not have the same environment. Such is the case for prisoners, as dreadful as the African prisons are, some still make the best of being there, while the rest don’t. Such are the people who mostly need mental reform and rehabilitation, much more than the others. It’s all in the mind, how we perceive life.
Turning a new leaf can become such a big deal because we are scared of trying out something new, something that might be of more benefit and even easier to do. Ignorance pushes away opportunities. Prison terms with a touch of rehabilitation makes it easier for some people to embrace change for the better.
Have you ever heard of the Jail bird syndrome? This is the mental condition that longs for the prison environment even when they must have been released into the civilized society. It is a common psychological problem with most inmates for a variety of reasons- ashamed to face their family, weary of starting over. Call it escapism but they choose to be away from the bustling world and its pressures, they have grown comfortable with the prison life. Rehabilitation is the tool to help them discover the purpose to live for the right reasons; especially for the juvenile delinquents. Rehabilitation for them will entail an initial break down and later building up procedure; this is to fully understand the gravity of what they’ve done and then find true appreciation for life and mankind.
A blend of their manual labor, skill acquisition, with some education, therapy sessions with life coaches and motivational speakers will go a long way in correcting the faulty elements in the lives of these people. That way you are sure to break the garbage in garbage out cycle of convicts. Commendably, there have been prisoners who pursued and furthered their education while in prison; some groups have taken up rehabilitation of prisoners as their central mission but the impact will be more if the government saw the need to tow the same line.
3. Improving The Criminal Justice System
Every nation seems to be in dire need of an improved criminal justice system, in the African context, it is much more than a dire need. This is because if the criminal justice system is not put in order, a lot of ills will be done to the people and the country in general. Instead of maintaining justice and sanity in the environment, the institution might be doing the opposite. Should you loose your human right even while serving time? I don’t think anyone should, serving your sentence is punishment enough, extra illegal additions are not necessary.
The ancient African way of punishing offenders was on the basis of restitution not retributive punishment, the idea was to become a better person, we can’t say this enough because the recent trend seems to be about the level of degradation that you get in there. Perhaps we should re-employ the old concept in the system because lately it has been found that our prisons are not in any way heading towards the expected direction, prisons are now the dumping grounds of human beings who are repressed and victimized by a seemingly powerful opponent(political oppression). Without any form of warrant, people are arrested and never granted the opportunity for a trial or legal due process. Subsequent arbitrary detentions increases the resources budgeted for a comfortable maintenance of the prisoners; the cells are tightly cramped and the hygienic status of the place is severely tampered with. Sometimes the food allocations are not there, and when they finally come, are insufficient. Reforming the criminal justice in Africa will mean addressing such issues as:
– Checking violence and sexual abuse in the prisons whether from the guards or co-inmates. This could be done through administrative leadership and accountability or the use of CCTV cameras in crime potentials area of the institution.
– Re-addressing death penalties, torture and the validity of coerced confessions.
– Re-educating the police force and the prison guards; they should be made to understand that the welfare of the prisoners should be ensured irrespective of their status as convicts, they are human beings who still deserve to be treated right, they legally should have the protection against abuse of any sort.
– Implementing a system that separates first time offenders from long-term serving hardened criminals, a lot of positive reformations will be recorded in prison in the sense that the prison rehabilitation processes can better yield the appropriate effect.
4. Proper/ Ethical Administration
In Africa, prisons face a host of challenges including deficits of good governance, monetary support and other resources. Consequently, this creates a lapse in the proper administration of the prisons. Africa needs to tackle the recidivism in the African prison administration. The government should understand more than anyone that the prisoners have the right not to be abused all through their detention period; and that’s why every single department of the institution-health, welfare- should be in good shape.
To resuscitate the accountability of the guards and officials, the CCTV technological assistance of what happens in the prisons will go a long way in curbing the odds that go on in the prisons. Our prisons appear to be dysfunctional because we lack disciplined personnel in the institution; it’s not surprising when you hear that the guards in prisons help to smuggle in contraband items for the prisoners who settle them with God knows what. They should understand that they are not permitted to have any illegal co-operation whatsoever with the inmates.
With the alarming rate of the congestion in our prisons, you can be sure that the spread of infections and diseases will not be that hard. This is why the health department of the institution is a delicate issue to be addressed.
Most African prisons still have not seen the need to incorporate rehabilitation services in their penitentiaries, for both juvenile and adults. While the South African prison and some other African countries are making effort to infuse skill acquisition, education, and therapy sessions in their correctional facilities, some others have not shown a significant concern in this regard.