Sunday, April 2, 2023

Does prison really rehabilitate offenders?

Rehabilitation is supposed to re-shape someone from a pattern of behaviour that is unacceptable to both society and the law.

Rehabilitation is supposed and expected to offer alternatives to wayward individuals, especially herding them away from criminal or societal misbehavior.

The most prevalent form of rehabilitation Botswana has is the prisons system and although it’s uncommon for one to have a relative in prison in our country, they are reportedly full.

Most of the prisoners are retained there for minor crimes because there are no other forms of rehabilitation available to be an alternative to jail time.

It stands to reason that the minority of the people in jail are those getting long or life sentences.

Some of them end up committing the same crime that they got caught committing the last time they went to jail because they don’t find any alternative means of surviving once released to the outside world, which immediately begins to shun them.

Society shuns them on release because society considers it taboo to have been in jail, unless one was in prison for political reasons or for advocating for human rights in the continous struggles facing Africans today as in the past.
Some convicts are taken to jail for crimes they committed while trying to improve their family’s lifestyles by taking matters into their own hands. When they get to prison, they first hate it and feel out of place, feeling that they don’t belong there since they didn’t kill or rape anyone, thus feel annoyed and degraded to be associated with a place infested with rapists and murderers.

After a while, and to make the life behind bars a little easier and bearable, they try to get used to living within the facilities.
Not unlike television plots that portray the dangerous scenes of prison facilities, the Botswana system is rumoured to be infested with dangerous gang bangers that beat up newcomers as a form of welcoming them to the surroundings, which is actually a practice most Batswana in different institutions use, especially at institutions like senior secondary schools.

Back in the days when newcomers were welcomed by getting whipped by their elder counterparts, they used to call this system go treata (ill treatment).
So the newer inmates get to make friends with others in a bid to survive.
Once they adapt to the survival tactics they now have an identity amongst fellow prisoners and the time they spend in jail becomes easier.

By the time they leave the facility, more especially those serving long terms, the prison is their home and the outside world is no longer familiar or appealing to them.

They come out to find a changed world that has prospered without them or their contributions. They become new “inmates” on the outside once again and society pushes them away in whispers as they tell each other to avoid the “ex-convict” who might repeat on them what they did before.

They find that society has moved on and left no room for them to rejoin, meaning that they will have to start from scratch but without being properly accepted back into society.

They are nobodies who are avoided and who cannot be offered jobs and they, in turn, become protective of revealing themselves to a society that clearly disapproves of them rejoining their community.

They can’t find a job anywhere because their names have been blacklisted and employers are not too eager to hire people they can’t trust.
And the cycle threatens to repeat itself.

People’s mentalities also become a factor and interfere with their attempts to settle down properly, as people would be uncomfortable with the ex-convict’s presence in their midst.
People are just afraid or embarrassed to be seen befriending ex-convicts.
In Tswana societies, people even warn their children against misbehaving and give, as an example, the released convict who would be finding it hard to fit in society.

No longer having anything in common with society, the released prisoner begins to feel more welcome in jail than outside.

Does sending offenders to jail really reform a person and is the outcome the intended one? What exactly do Batswana think of the convict rejoining society and how does the convict feel about his return to society?

In random interviews with people in Gaborone, Batswana showed different emotions and thoughts about the subject. Many were not comfortable with the topic because they simply seemed unwilling to accept ex-convicts and worried a lot about repeat offenders who, ironically, because of societal rejection, are driven back into crime.

One Kegoreng, a 22-year-old socialite who schools at Limkokwing University, doesn’t have an informed opinion about whether the prison rehabilitation system in Botswana is effective and whether the convict can really change because she doesn’t know of anybody in her circles that has been to jail.
“The only cases of prison I have seen are whereby a couple of my drunk friends were caught walking on the streets at night and were forced to spend a night in a cell, but I have seen a number of prison movies whereby a rapist was released and he went and did the same thing again.”

According to Kegoreng, prisoners who have been released are people who have done a wrong and their time in jail has righted that, therefore they ought to be given a chance to prove themselves again.

Kegoreng says our system should try to be more like the one in America whereby there are programmes that support convicts after they serve their prison sentences so as to help them find their feet again.

“The only other form of punishment I know is getting lashed at the kgotla (ward) or facing imprisonment.”

Tsaone Diteko, a 27-year-old man living in Old Naledi, has been to prison a couple of times for minor theft cases, such as stealing cell phones, but the last time he was in the slammer was for breaking and entering when he was 23. That was a more serious case as he was sentenced to more than 3 years in jail, which happened to be the longest he had ever been jailed.

After he came out, things were hard for him; he couldn’t find a job he did before, that of unloading goods off a truck. Because of his criminal record, no one trusted him.

Diteko, who now claims to be a changed man after his brief criminal stunts had put him in jail a couple of times, says he kept going back to doing the same thing because he had no other way of handling his financial situation. He said that no one was willing to hire him after they discovered that he had been to jail. His brother had even disowned him because people now associated their family name with prison and other bad stuff.

“I know I disappointed my family and that people find it hard to trust me because of my past encounters with the law but they have to give me a chance to prove myself otherwise I am being forced into a corner again,” said Diteko.

Ditiro Ditiro, a 32-year-old living in Gaborone and who has a middle income says that prisoners belong in jail and they shouldn’t be given minimum sentences.

“How do you sentence a hard core rapist to ten years in prison and hope that when they come back they will be changed people? Ten years? For rape? What are we saying? That our women will only be safe for ten more years until they decide to release the rapists from prison? These people will never change,” says Ditiro.

He said he does not have much faith in people who have been to prison changing much at all.

“A leopard can never change its spots,” he said.

A shopkeeper by profession, Keith Ketareng believes that convicts should be given a chance to prove their maturity and humility by being awarded tasks that are not of heavy responsibility at first but light enough to help them find ground.
He is one of the few people who advocate for kinder considerations of ex-convicts and suggests that they should be assisted to jobs like supermarkets and pay them enough to support their families to keep them away from crime.

“Most of the people who work at my supermarkets are ex-convicts; they work really hard and do not ask for too much pay, which I feel is reasonable because they know I am taking a huge risk by employing them,” says the shopkeeper.


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