Rehabilitation sounds laudable, but  at what cost?

This week, I was perusing TikTok when I came across a video of Kokstad, KwaZulu-Natal’s Ebongweni Maximum Correctional Centre. The clip provided an insider’s perspective of what was billed as the nation’s only supermax jail, with conversations between convicts and wardens about the strict rules.

This sent me down a rabbit hole of related material with a wide range of responses in the comment sections. While some acknowledged that the mere sight of these films served as a deterrence to crime, others voiced concerns about the harshness and inhumanity of such a facility.

It is interesting that I also came across remarks from former prisoners attesting that Ebongweni was the hardest they had encountered, indicating that they are regular offenders.

The comments and videos provoked a contemplative look at what the public believes jail life should be like. Some viewers appeared to be expecting a more relaxed atmosphere, which is quite different from my belief that prisons must be places of rigorous rehabilitation. This prompted me to research rehabilitation and its goal of lowering recidivism. I wondered why the goal isn’t to totally eradicate recidivism.

I discovered that the government’s main goals are to provide rehabilitation programmes and interventions that are specifically designed to meet the needs of sentenced offenders, to ensure the safe and humane detention of prisoners in correctional centres and remand detention facilities, and to efficiently manage non-custodial sentences and parole to reintegrate offenders into society as law-abiding citizens. This includes basic amenities like daily meals and education, which are a luxury for many regular people.

The official unemployment rate in the third quarter of 2023 was 31.9%. The deficiency of skills is a major component in these numbers. A lot of people don’t have an education because of money problems. In addition, there is a lack of access to programmes for skill development, which contributes to the pervasive poverty, hunger, and homelessness.

However, criminals are being fed vital tax revenue.

My mother worked in a prison; thus, I grew up in a prison environment. I remember her telling us that since “they have too many liberties”, convicts occasionally feel better at ease inside prison walls.

We were sent to Sun City prison in high school “just to scare us”.  One young prisoner said having access to education, regular meals and the chance to better himself, made jail life preferable to life outside.

People who are behind bars ought to stay there without any mercy. Offenders should give up their rights during sentencing to lessen the burden on public resources and minimise crime in our communities. Why is there leniency?

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