Lettin’ folks out of lock-up – is it a good thing?

Jackie Wilson Asheeke

When the president decided to pardon petty criminals, I thought, “ok…that’s nice…now what?” ‘Ripping-the-band-aid-off’ abrupt actions can cause more harm than good. These former inmates will be thrown out onto the streets and expected to ‘be ok.’ Reality check: They won’t be ok.

What is the plan beyond unlocking the doors and saying, ‘get out?’

Proven criminals with no money will be stealing within hours just to get a bus ticket to get home or find food that day. It is colder these days…shall they steal blankets and coats to sleep outside at night?

There are no jobs in Namibia for unskilled/semi-skilled people (convicts or not). Shall they join the other men by the side of the road or the sex workers or whatever else?

What happens when they ‘go home’ and find their family disbursed to the winds? Or what if the parents or siblings they used to live with do not want them back? What about a wife/girlfriend – husband/boyfriend who is with someone else now? What about kids frightened of their abusive parent that is now returning? What about when they try to go back to an old job that no longer exists? What about returning to a shack where squatters now live?

What about men who were raped regularly or hooked on drugs while they were inside? Will these released convicts have their national documents in hand upon release? Do you know the royal mess of trying to do anything in Namibia without an ID? Are they literate in English and able to fill out job applications or read a newspaper? The things I am mentioning are REAL.

There should have been extensive pre-release counseling and reintegration programs..

They should have been allowed to read daily newspapers and watch the news. They should be given internet time (or taught how to use it). Supervised home visits or small group, controlled visitations to public areas could be done. Critically, there should have been family consultations. Housing assessments and job placement counseling are vital. Let us not forget victim notification!

Much of the assistance I mentioned above doesn’t exist here. Therein lays my point.

Namibia has an outmoded approach to prisons. ‘Reform, reconciliation, and rehabilitation’ are just words. Prison in Namibia is a punishment; plain and simple. Let’s not try to lie to ourselves.

There are poorly funded prison programs for counseling, skills development and training in some jobs. But, low funding and lack of concern leave this branch of government under-supported. Prison service officials have a TOUGH job and need to be encouraged. Often, they are just as much on lockdown as the prisoners they guard.

Unless you have a loved one locked up and you visit regularly, the prison world is something in a galaxy far, far away.

Must we continue to underestimate the sociological impacts of inmates returning to a changed environment? The ‘thing’ that made those people make decisions that landed them behind bars has not changed. The experts will tell statistical nightmares about recidivism. I have only mentioned a few reasons why.

Prisons are classrooms. The guy going in for stealing a tourists’ camera, will come out with the knowledge that he must carry a weapon and hit a grocery store on payday instead.

They will have better criminal contacts for the future. They will know fences for stolen goods, poached wildlife products, gangs, and consortiums for stolen cars, laptops, and smartphones.

He may have been using drugs regularly in jail and may come out with a habit.

If he was passive when he went in, nights of fighting off rapists or beatings (by inmates and some guards), will have changed him dramatically. The purse-snatcher targeting ‘weaker’ women can come out as an angry and abused rapist ready to prey on his next victim.

These guys who were caught and convicted of a particular offense were not virgins in criminality. Some committed far worse crimes but were never arrested for it or a case could not be proven. The guy released on a simple house-breaking rap could also be a long-time, known drug dealer or violent abuser. However, he never got nabbed in those cases.

The police, happy to get these harder criminals off the streets on lesser counts, must not be amused by this pardon. They will be responsible for catching these guys and proving a case against them, AGAIN. Make no mistake, the majority of those being released, will be right back in the bulls-eye of the police in short order.

What about the victims? Do people really understand the nightmare of feeling powerless after being a crime victim?

These newly freed convicts may even seek out those who testified in court against them and take revenge. Can you imagine the neighbour you helped convict, moving back in next door?

Bottom line – It is not those who make such decisions that have to live day to day with the outcome. This distance between the needs/worries of ordinary people and our aging, elite law-makers keeps emerging. It is making a bad situation worse. Please, consult wider, plan better, and prepare before doing anymore ‘favours’ for the people.

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