Friday, April 15, 2016
Isles’ reformatory centres geared for reforms
I COULD not stop my heart beats running that fast when I saw a photograph of one of the Isles’ prisons with seemingly masochists paraded warders outside it, resembling the medieval Mamertine prison in the Daily News of 30th March 2016, headlined “inmates complain of hellish life in crammed jails.”
The feature story was the work of Issa Yusuf covering the Chief Justice of Zanzibar Omar Othman Makungu visit to some of the reformatory centres (prisons) in Zanzibar accompanied by Prison Officers led by Commissioner of Zanzibar Reformatory Centres, Mr Khalifa Hassan Chum.
The photograph of that prison structure is very indicative to the first formal and enduring prison built under the Roman sewers in 64 BC known as Mamertine Prison.Mamertine prison contained dungeons that amounted to subterranean cages, evidently constructed for no other purpose than the prisoners should suffer great discomfort while confined there.
Persons thrown into a cage and perhaps tied or chained to the wall for good measure, suffer obvious deprivations.
Indeed this explanation carries the message of today’s Zanzibar reformatory centre’s complaints raised to the Zanzibar Chief Justice Makungu in that rare encounter with inmates, “the hellish life in crammed jails.”
Prisons in antiquity were self –consciously punitive; their internal regimes were intentionally inhumane. Warders cared the least on human decency an increasingly central concern in the modern prison administration.
The early prisons were arranged to inflict pain. Prisons of olden times, the middle Ages to certain extent up to now have served clearly as retributive functions.
Imprisonment was part of the suffering intended to prisoners to pay back for the harm done by their crimes. More grisly punishments, often culminating to death on the scaffold, were considered more dramatic and painful.
The visit of the Chief Justice afforded the inmates an opportunity to catalogue their problems ranging from overcrowding, delay of cases, corruption at the courts, framed charges to faulty classification and segregation, young offenders being mixed with adults.
It is gratifying to note that the Chief Justice was very receptive to these inmates and pronounced to deal with the problems accordingly.
But more importantly he revisited the idea of the founding father of that country, the late Abeid Amani Karume of changing the colonial Prison Service to Vyuo vya Mafunzo (Reformatory Centres) in 1971.
President Karume had a great vision of making reformatory centres places of new beginning for those who were in conflict with the law.
He had good intentions of making these facilities centres responsible for addressing the re offending attitude of offenders and changing them into good law abiding citizens. Apparently he was not well understood and those who were responsible for running those centres took it as cosmetic change in the spirit of the new dispensation that came through the popular revolution.
In reality it was a mere change of name without change of direction as its notoriety in violation of human rights reached proportions that some of the political detainees from Zanzibar were incarcerated in Tanzania Mainland though Prisons was not in the protocols of the Union.
The Chief Justice now wants to revive the idea laid down by founder President Karume that prisons should not be places of suffering but places of reformation better known as rehabilitation and social reintegration.
What the Chief Justice envisages here is the reforms for the Island Prisons to come to terms with the global paradigm shift from traditional ways of running prisons to the current Risk Management Correctional Philosophy.
One positive element is that Prisons in Zanzibar is not a Union issue and with manageable number of inmates, the envisaged new approach could start as a pilot project that would be rolled out after starting it at that new modern central prison promised to be constructed.
The idea comes at the right time with a new government in Zanzibar that has promised adherence to good governance human rights and rule of law.
Presumably that modern central prison will meet the current standards of the correctional institutions in the sense of the structures not the building. The architectural and physical structures of prison’s facilities need to be redesigned to adequately serve the purpose of rehabilitation and reintegration.
The theory of change in the Prison Reforms aims at fostering systemic penal reforms demonstrating advocacy for reforms at the international, regional or national level. Already here there is a political will for change; therefore it is possible to seek for technical assistance to allow legislation and penal policy to take place.
It is here where the Commissioner of Reformatory Centre Mr Chum has to do serious networking with reputable NGOs and other enlightened personalities to manage these reforms.
Unfortunately Commissioner Chum has not been very much exposed to the new philosophy on Corrections; it is time for him to do so now.
What is required from the government is to build awareness and public support for the change, working with civil society and other stakeholders.
Organizations such as Penal Reform International can be asked to provide training and information resources to develop the skills and capacity of those implementing reforms.
The Zanzibar Reformatory Centres would be able to deliver and contribute to public safety if serious real reforms could be introduced.
Addressing the overcrowding of prisoners, improving prison’s conditions and conducting rehabilitation programmes requires both political will and mindset change of the people to allow physical reforms of the prison structures.
The perception and views that offenders experiencing severe sanctions in prisons are more likely to reduce their criminal activities in the future have been proven contrary by what is happening in our society on daily basis.
This is despite the change on sentencing policies in adopting tough sentences, the crime rates still goes high.
It is high time now we should get smart to the crime by adopting best practices applied elsewhere rather than continuing getting tough to the crime with failing results.
at 9:30 PM