Government and stakeholders should support Prisons for a change
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THIS is a follow up to the last week’s advice on how to effectively deal with the vexing question of overcrowding in our prisons. No doubt the public is aware that overcrowding is the mother of all problems in our custodial institutions and is the source of unintended breach of prisoner’s rights.

There cannot be effective rehabilitation process or efficient management of prisons if you have overcrowded prisons. As suggested in that previous exposition; it appears that all efforts made to address overcrowding way back from 1984 have not been successful and we have to rethink on how best we can solve this problem.

Look at our rehabilitation and the parole systems; are they effectively working? If they were working, we would not keep on asking so many questions as to why recidivism is in the increase.

When Dr Emanuel Nchimbi was the Minister for Home Affairs, he dared to question in one of the Senior Prison Officer’s Conferences why prisoners keep on returning to prisons while we are busy rehabilitating them? In another Conference of African Correctional Services Association (ACSA) held in Maputo, 2015, it was reported that Tanzania’s rate of recidivism was 47 per cent which is considerably high.

If that is the case, is it possible to control prison population in our institutions? It is a reality that overcrowding caused by recidivism is the best recipe for violence and degeneration of discipline and order within the prison settings. The ladder of commission crimes of offenders goes higher with recidivism.

Therefore the question of rehabilitation, social reintegration and parole of prisoners needs to be reviewed and possibly come up with scientific tools that are commonly used in addressing rehabilitation of prisoners which is the basis of parole consideration. Another half attempt of reducing congestion of our prisons was thought to be alternative to imprisonment mostly conditional release of offenders.

These include fines, community based services sanctions, periodical imprisonment, remissions and presidential reprieves. Community Service was seen as an ideal approach of decongesting our prison facilities but again that is not the case.

Our people should be made to understand that majority of offenders can be dealt with effectively in the community by means of non-custodial correctional programmes; imprisonment should be used sparingly. We are used to hearing of Community Policing, this should go together with Community Correctional Programmes.

Indeed traditions do die hard; our people including judicial officers still maintain that without imprisonment punishment may not be seen to have taken effect. It is high time now that community service sanctions should be mandatory for a conviction of not more than three years sentence.

We have seen officials occasioning loss in the government being placed on community service orders yet a big number deserving offenders whose crime is only to be poor are still languishing in prisons? This is in the hand of judicial officers to make the community service sanctions working in the spirit of easing congestion in our prisons. And this can also apply to the unnecessary use of presentencing detentions.

On the appointment of Dr. Augustine Lyatonga Mrema as the Chair of the National Parole Board last year, he promised to make a timeframe of easing prison congestion by half within a year! Hopefully he will manage that.

Our prison administrative system is that of the British colonial relic, but the British have modified their system and is no longer the same as ours. We are still using outdated classification of prisoners and prisons which do not auger well with the modern correctional approach.

The British introduced their Parole System in1967 as a respected quasi-judicial body with highly qualified board members. It is a requirement that they produce Annual Report that is supposed to be tabled to the Parliament.

At that time up to now, their parole board members include among others a person who holds or has held judicial office. Objective of parole principally is to contribute to reduction of crime among persistent, or recidivist offenders, who return again and again to prison. Reduction of overcrowding is a secondary objective following the effectiveness of rehabilitation, social reintegration and parole in reduction of crime, thus having fewer convictions.

The Parole Board is usually expected to protect the public by making risks assessment about prisoners to decide who may safely be released into the community and who must remain in or be returned to custody. What is important for both rehabilitation and parole is the application of tools in identifying risk assessment and its management.

To come out with sound judgement on release of offenders on parole, these tools should be used to identify criminogenic factors of the involved offenders. Short of that, would be unprofessional guess work of trial and error in releasing offenders on parole.

It should be remembered that emerging out of Age of Enlightenment, the treatment approach of offenders is thought to be more humane and responds to the individual rather than the offence. Criminals are considered to be “dis easesed” in some manner, and thus in need of corrective intervention – analogous to the approach used in medicine.

That is, criminals are assumed to be treatable. That is where the offenders are faced with medical or treatment model and can be diagnosed for their needs and risk assessment, after which appropriate programmes can be selected for their treatment as correctional (rehabilitation) programmes.

This could be among accredited programmes on rehabilitation which the prisons are supposed to have for effective interventions in the rehabilitation processes leading to release on parole.

This is the new technological approach on how Corrections should be operational. The government and other stakeholders including the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Security and Foreign Affairs should assist Prisons to adapt this paradigm shift to modernity.

Apparently Prisons Service is a young growing institution with a good number of educated officers who can cope easily with these changes if given the opportunity.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. +255754342711 Senior Citizen Board Member Penal Reform and National Parole Board.

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