Reformed offenders need to be given a break

After hitting a brick wall on numerous occasions searching for employment in various government departments and local municipalities, Mzandile Mabaso’s aspirations for a bright future came to a grinding halt.

Mabaso, 25, told Sunday World he finds himself in a predicament because in 2016 he was convicted of being in possession of dagga while he was still a university student.

Despite working hard to obtain a diploma in cost and management accounting, potential employers are rejecting him because of his criminal record.

“I was doing my third year in one of the universities in Durban when police raided the campus, and we were arrested with my friends for smoking weed.

“We were subsequently given a suspended sentence of six months each for being in possession of marijuana.”

Mabaso’s story is not unique among hundreds of reformed former offenders who have acquired relevant skills and education for the job market but continue to languish in the periphery of unemployment.

When Ronald Lamola, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, took office in 2019, he conceded that despite there being no law which prohibited rehabilitated individuals from being employed in any sector, companies were hostile to employing reformed offenders.

Lamola said his department would consider a law, which would make it easier for individuals who have served their sentences to be absorbed in the job market as a strategy to prevent them from reoffending.

“It is something which I want to make my legacy because the rehabilitation of offenders is very important for our society and growth of the economy. When they are rehabilitated and have acquired skills, it means they do not become a burden to society. There is a challenge of backlog in terms of expungement of criminal records,” said Lamola at the time.

He said they were also looking at putting policy proposals that would make it easy for criminal records to be expunged.

“We can understand when it is a sexual offence, which needs rigorous processes, but if its petty theft and some other crime it shouldn’t be difficult to expunge,” said Lamola.

Former minister of correctional services and now South Africa’s ambassador to India, Sbu Ndebele, led a delegation to the US for a study tour aimed at learning best international practices in dealing with ex-convicts. Ndebele noted during the visit that in countries where former inmates were absorbed in the job market, crime was reduced.

Some companies in the City of New York are offered tax incentives for employing ex-offenders. According to studies, in SA an ex-inmate has a 92% chance of reoffending once released in contrast with the international trend, which stands at 56%.

Prison rights activist Golden Miles Bhudu said former inmates were economic hostages for the rest of their lives.

“We are in this crisis because of the blanket approach where ex-offenders must wait for a 10-year period before their names are expunged. This means that a young person charged for culpable homicide who studies can longer be employed. What other options will this person have?”

He added that to prevent a situation where ex-inmates are pushed further into the margins of society and eventually back to criminality, rehabilitated individuals should not be stigmatised but must be given a second chance in life.

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