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Opinion / Columnist

Presidential amnesty needs revisiting

15 Aug 2023 at 06:33hrs | Views
IN yesterday's NewsDay edition, we carried a story of a former jailbird who was released from prison this year under the Presidential Amnesty programme. The man, who was released after serving part of his 14-year sentence for car theft, has been re-arrested for committing a similar offence after stealing two cars in Bulawayo.

Under this year's amnesty, 4 000 prisoners were released to help decongest the country's overcrowded jails, a noble gesture given the dire conditions in our prisons where overcrowding is breeding chaos, diseases and exposing inmates to hunger.

However, we believe the release of prisoners should be well planned and follow strict procedures which insist, among other preconditions for release, that a prisoner due for release must be sufficiently equipped or empowered to immediately fit back into society.

This is obviously not an isolated case of an ex-convict being arrested and sent back behind bars soon after being pardoned under the Presidential Amnesty. There are probably countless other unpublished cases of former jailbirds heading back to prison soon after being released.

In fact, stories are told of former prisoners deliberately committing crimes to return to jail because they feel unwelcome in society, with many of them having little to no skills to help them quickly fit back into society.

It would be interesting to understand what life skills the Bulawayo car thief acquired while in jail and to what extent he was accepted by society on his release.

One would want to also find out whether the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) bothers to visit its ex-prisoners soon after their release to find out if conditions are ideal for them to put into practice the life skills, if any, they acquired in prison.

ZPCS should not just recommend individuals for parole when the prisoners are clueless about how they will survive once they leave prison, especially at this point in time when the economy is offering very few opportunities to its citizens to make ends meet.

Releasing convicts into the present-day economy without laying a good foundation for them to gainfully survive is a futile exercise and a complete waste of time.

It is a known fact that it has never been easy for former convicts to fit back into society and it should be ZPCS's concern that those leaving its walls would have been adequately rehabilitated, otherwise the case of the Bulawayo car thief points to a failing or inadequately resourced correctional service unable to fulfil its mandate.

We cannot, in all honesty, believe that ZPCS is doing a good job if, soon after being released from prison, an offender commits a similar offence to the one he or she was jailed for.

If, indeed, ZPCS is doing its best, then it must make sure that its products are properly reintroduced into society for them to fit well.

Simply chucking the former inmates out of prison to decongest the penitentiaries, without laying a good foundation for them to survive outside jail, is an exercise in futility.

Source - Newsday
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