On the 25th of January, President Obama banned the subjection of juvenile and low-level offenders to solitary confinement in federal prisons. He says “the practice is overused and has the potential for devastating psychological consequences.” Instead of a 365 days subjection of prisoners to solitary confinement, the president reduced it to 60 days.
According to Washington Post, there are about 10, 000 prisoners serving time in solitary confinement and quite a number of teen offenders annually subjected to restrictive housing.
Some time back, Obama came up with an initiative that can help people in prison acquire education. On a grand scale, he has shown interest in the welfare of citizens who are serving time in prison- they may be offenders but they are still citizens of the nation. The idea of imprisonment is primarily to keep the society safe but ultimately to transform these faulty characters
Prisons are correctional facilities where offenders pay for their crimes but most importantly become better persons who will not pose any form of hazard when they are done serving time and about re-entering the civilized environment.
Just like we also need in Africa, Obama’s recent ban re-addresses criminal justice and the concept of rehabilitation in our prisons. Prisons are often called penitentiaries because it should offer a considerable dose of rehabilitation; prisons are there so that offenders can take time to reflect, re-evaluate their characters, fully understand the gravity of what they’ve done and then find true appreciation for life and mankind.
Prisons should offer some sort of intervention, having for its aim, the restructuring of the convicts’ characters for the better. It makes absolutely no sense that people spend so much time in prison only to come out worse than they were before they were detained. In the absence of a proper rehabilitation in prisons, the idea of maintaining justice and sanity in the environment, might be yielding opposite results.
President Obama understands the huge damage that could be done on these young minds if proper attention is not given to the extreme sanctions meted out to them; thus his efforts in trying to avert the negative psychological effect it builds in them.
“How can we subject prisoners to unnecessary solitary confinement, knowing its effects, and then expect them to return to our communities as whole people?”- Obama
A lot of people share Obama’s sentiments, more so when it has been proven that subjecting them to isolation will do more harm than good to their mind sets. They might develop the jail-bird syndrome – a mental situation where the offender accepts the prison as where he ought to be; and as an unconscious habit they keep breaking the law and going right back to prison.
Africa could get a tip from this – understanding that beyond the cliche of retributive ‘criminal justice’, restitution and rehabilitation are essential too. Most African prisons have series of challenges, ranging from structural reforms, poor or no feeding allocation, congestion and poor administration. With this scenario most African prisons still have not seen the need for reform/rehabilitation in their penitentiaries, for both juvenile and adults, thereby undermining the value of rehabilitation as well as the essence of youth formation.