Saturday, January 22, 2022

Prisons Commissioner calls for victim-offender reconciliation

The Commissioner of Prisons, Silas Motlalekgosi says there must be a meeting point in the victim-offender reconciliation process, where the victim must meet the offender so that there is restoration of justice.

In an interview with Sunday Standard, Motlalekgosi called for amendment the Prisons Act, which he said is now irrelevant in some areas.

He said there is urgent need for the Act to be modernised and amended to put it in line with current challenges. He pointed out that the biggest challenge is always inmates, who are more advanced as they come up with new ways through which they can beat the system and out-manoeuvre the law.

“If we don’t keep our inmates busy, they will keep the prisons warders busy. Smoking is totally prohibited in prisons, but nowadays we see a lot of cigarettes in there. Prisoners have been found in possession of cell phones and we wonder how they smuggled them inside. Knives are regularly stolen from our workshops. The prisoners use them at night to cut burglar bars. There is too much contraband into our prisons,” said Motlalekgosi.

The Commissioner did not rule out the possibility of prison warders assisting inmates to smuggle gadgets into the prisons.

“We can imprison the body but we cannot imprison the mind. We as the prisons officers are not here to punish the inmates because they have already been punished by the courts of law. We only administer the sentences,” he said.

He reserved his comment on the issue of provision and use of condoms in prisons by inmates, saying his only role is to administer the laws of Botswana as stipulated by the Prisons Act. He however said he would gladly comply and implement the law if any changes are effected.

Motlalekgosi also expressed worry at escalating incidents of prisoners escaping from lawful custody and the little support they get from members of the public while in the hunt for such prisoners. He accused some members of the public of colluding with prisoners and aiding them to escape from lawful custody, especially in courts and hospitals. He said some people even provide inmates with cell phones and transport and called for such activities to cease as they disturb the prisons’ program of rehabilitation.

“As prison officers we live with these people. Whatever affects inmates also affects us, be it diseases or whatever. Our job is not easy because we have to monitor what happens around the country all the time on a daily basis. We do not sleep. I keep myself alive through physical training. I jog and use the gym,” said Motlalekgosi.

The Commissioner also revealed that he was very worried about over crowding around the country’s prisons. He explained that the prisons’ living spaces are under crowded while the centres are overcrowded. He gave examples of the Gaborone Central prison, Lobatse, Mahalapye and Francistown.

Motlalekgosi explained that administrative duties at Botswana prisons are carried out by the leadership. He said there has been improvement at the department as they now have a new improved fleet, up to date rehabilitation structures as well an increased budget for rehabilitating the old structures. He said the rehabilitation program comes in various forms and it may include psycho-social programs, skills programs as well as character moulding where they try and make inmates reflect on their lives and the wrongs that they have done.

“Everybody here is a stakeholder and we want everybody to come on board in the process of rehabilitation. There is a lot of stigma and discrimination mostly done by the general public. We are taking the department to the people,” said Motlalekgosi.

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