Reflection- Rehabilitation of prisoners in Seychelles


15-June-2013

The prison was situated at the Central Police Station (middle of the town), but as the Victoria prison was overcrowded and with close proximity to the general public, the Union Vale Prison was opened on September 18, 1951.

In order to cope with over crowdedness at Union Vale Prison, the Long Island which was a quarantine station was declared a prison on March 17, 1961. The prisoners were then engaged in productive activities ranging from carpentry to livestock breeding.

Subsequently, on February 26, 1980, the Union Vale Prison was officially transferred to Long Island. It was divided into Open Prison and maximum security (B Block) which in 1995 was declared a special Prison.

In February 1989, Grand Police High Security Prison was opened and declared a special prison. In 1996, the Grand Police High Security Prison was officially transferred to civilian rules and moved to Long Island (B Block), and again in September 2003, the hard core prisoners from B Block, Long Island were again transferred to Grand Police High Security Prison. This time the prisoners transferred to Grand Police were the ones attempting to escape from lawful custody and also those repeatedly breaching the prison disciplinary rules on Long Island prison.

In 2006, the Nation’s only penal institution was situated at Montagne Posée. All inmates from Long Island were transferred to the new prison at Montagne Posée and the inmates from Grand Police High Security Prison were transferred on June 23, 2007.

The second drifts
Throughout the transition of the Penal institutions, the Vision of our prisons has not changed:  “Contributing to the development of a crimes-free society through the rehabilitation of criminals and the elimination of unlawful behaviour”.
What does this mean? In essence, our Vision is coming to life through the introduction of several programmes that focus on people, processes and policies; such as:

• Classification of inmates
• Group sessions on social skills
• Self disciplined development
• Spiritual programme (bible study)
• Personality enhancement
• Academic/ vocational programmes
• Community programmes
• Visits
Again, the Mission of our Prisons since its inception in the midst of early 1900s has been and still is:
• To keep in safe custody individuals committed to prison by the courts
• To provide correctional and rehabilitation programmes based on the respect of human dignity, aimed at addressing offending and criminal patterns of conduct. In doing so, the crime can be reduced by building confidence and promoting law-abiding behaviour.
Enough from the memory lane, let’s take a look at the roles and functions of Prison:
To protect and safeguard a just, peaceful society by:
• Enforcing the sentences of the courts
• Detaining all prisoners in safe custody while ensuring their human dignity, safety hygiene and respect; and
• Discharging appropriate correctional programmes in conformity with national and international law and code of conduct
• Promoting the social responsibility and human development of all prisoners by means of corrective activities
• Counselling and psychological services to help them reintegrate into mainstream society; and promoting both the vocational and educational development of all prisoners.
Foremost, it is to be reiterated that committing crimes is totally unacceptable, every effort has to be made to reduce the rate. It is unproductive, often too painful and to a large extent immoral...

Prison Rehabilitation defined
Prison Rehabilitation Programmes are created with the intentions of distracting, educating, treating and otherwise occupying inmates’ time with the potential benefit of shaping responsible citizens able to function in the general population. Hence, participating in such programmes provides safe havens inside prison, enhance prisoners’ ability to deal with an often hostile prison environment, and enrich the quality of day-to-day life.

The burning question is, why so much emphasis now!
The prerequisite is to examine what is so called 'Current Global Issues on Prisons'

Prison management issues include
• Budgeting
• Staffing
• Public Administration policy
• Public Outcry (People Power)
In addition it includes managing the overcrowding in prisons, violence & bullying, health care issues, drug addiction in Prisons, rise in HIV/Aids prisoners, self harm, and death in custody, prison rape, smuggling of contrabands into Prisons Premises, and the increasing awareness on human rights.

Changes in political, economic factors, legislation, sociological factors
• This would include as a tool of political repression to detain political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, and ‘’enemies of the state”, particularly by authoritarian regimes.

Overcrowding in prisons
• The department of corrections stipulates that each prisoner should have 2.25sqm each. Again, here we have to consider what are the factors that contribute to overcrowding.

HIV/Aids in Prisons
Last but not least, the rise in HIV/Aids in Prisons (which is well known as ‘Prisons as a time Bomb’) and the high turnover of prisoner “Recidivism”. If the rate is 35% yearly it is alarming.
The aforementioned factors must be considered in the penitentiary system, while planning the rehabilitation programmes, failing to do so, it will give way only to mediocrity. Then this would not mean management/ leadership at its best.

The third drifts

The Prison staff and the administration of Prisons
In any democratic society, work in Prison is a public service. Prisons are places, like schools and hospitals, which should be run by the civil power with the objective of contributing to the public good. Prison authorities should have some accountability to an elected parliament and the public should be regularly informed about the state and aspirations of the prisons.

Government ministers and senior administrators should make it clear that they hold prison staff in high regard for the work they do and the public should frequently be reminded that prison is an important public service.

The management of prisons is primarily about the management of human beings, both staff and prisoners. Prison management needs to operate within an ethical framework. Without a strong ethical context, the situation where one group of people is given considerable power over another can easily become an abuse of power.

An emphasis by the prison authority on correct processes, a demand for operational efficiency, or pressure to meet management targets without a prior consideration of ethical imperatives can lead to great inhumanity.

A concentration by the prison authorities on technical processes and procedures will lead staff to forget that a prison is not the same as a factory which produces motor cars or washing machines. This means that there are issues which go beyond effectiveness and efficiency.

Those with responsibility for prisons and prison systems need to look beyond technical and managerial considerations. They also have to be leaders who are capable of enthusing the staff for which they are responsible with a sense of value in the way they carry out their difficult daily tasks. They need to be men and women who have a clear vision and a determination to maintain the highest standards in the difficult work of prison management. (Good leadership is vital). Sadly so, many have not understood such mechanism.

Staff/Prisoner relationships are the key
When people think of prisons they tend to consider their physical aspect: walls, fences, a building with locked doors and windows with bars. In reality the most important aspect of a prison is the human dimension, since prisons are primarily concerned with people. The two most important groups of people in a prison are the prisoners and the staff who look after them. Hence, the key to a well managed prison is the nature of the relationship between these two groups. It was my wish that this message would have had fallen on good listening ears. Regrettably, they have fallen on many deaf ears and have given way to incisiveness. 

The four drifts
What the international instruments say
International Covenant Civil and Political Rights, Article 10:

All persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person.
Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, Article 2:

In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all persons


Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 46 (2)

The prison administration shall constantly seek to awaken and maintain in the minds both of the personnel and of the Public the conviction that this work is a social service of great importance, and to this end all appropriate means of informing the public should be used.
Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 48:

All members of the personnel shall at all times so conduct themselves and perform their duties as to influence the prisoners for good by their example and to command their respect.

Putting it into practice
In order to ensure that these values are properly understood and implemented by staff it is important that a prison administration sets out its statement of purpose clearly. Such a statement will be based on international instruments and standards and will be clearly communicated to all who are involved in the work of prisons. The Policy Document of the Seychelles Prison Service is an example of such a statement. Among those values is an acknowledgement of the fundamental importance of an effective system for recruiting and training staff.  (However, the truth of the matter is; have these values been filtered from top to bottom?

What the international instruments say about constructive activities and social reintegration of prisoners (REHABILITATION)
Depriving a human being of liberty is a very severe punishment; in itself imprisonment is a severe deprivation of rights and thus it is only to be imposed by a judicial authority in clearly defined circumstances and when there is no other reasonable alternative.

It is not sufficient for prison authorities merely to treat prisoners with humanity and decency. They must also provide the prisoners in their care with opportunities to change and develop. This requires considerable skill and commitment.

Prisons should be places where there is a full programme of constructive activities which will help prisoners to improve their situation.
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 10 (3):

The penitentiary system shall comprise of treatment of prisoners as the essential aim of which will be their reformation and social rehabilitation.
Standard minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners, Rules 65-66:

65 The treatment of persons sentenced to imprisonment or a similar measure shall have as its purpose, so far as the length of the sentence permits, to establish in them the will to lead law-abiding and self-supporting lives after their release and to fit them to do so. The treatment shall be such as will encourage their self-respect and develop their sense of responsibility.

66 (1) To these ends, all appropriate means shall be used, including religious care in the countries where this is possible, education, vocational guidance and  training, social casework, employment counseling, physical development and strengthening of moral character, in accordance with the individual needs of each prisoner, taking into  account  his social and criminal history, his physical and mental capacities and aptitudes, his personal temperament, the length of his sentence and his prospects after release.

(2) for every prisoner with a sentence of suitable length, the director shall receive, as soon as possible after his admission, full reports on all the matters referred to in the foregoing paragraph. Such reports shall always include a report by a medical officer, wherever  possible qualified in psychiatry, on the physical and mental condition of the prisoner.

(3)The reports and other relevant documents shall be placed in an individual file. This file shall be kept up to date and classified in such a way that it can be consulted by the responsible personnel whenever the need arises.

What is the way forward?
The obvious is, to instigate the importance of having well formulated rehabilitation activities, which serve the purpose of our institution, or the international instruments wishes.  However, although as good the intention is to have public debate on such of a subject, the public can only endorse what they have been presented with. Nothing significant will be implemented without a well designed plan.  
It appears that there is a sign of political will. This is significant; the reality is that it has taken too long.  Some may argue that we are now in the process to work on damage control retrieving plan. Was it necessary?  Can it be that we can do away with the red tapes?; only if there are any.  Either way, it will be a costly event;  someone, somewhere has to foot the bills. Are we ready for that?

The theological concept into the plan
It is crucial to include the theological concept into the plan activities. In the Old Testament, however, there is one section that puts all the principles together and summarises the biblical teachings of child-rearing. Although this was written for the Israelites prior to their entrance into the Promised Land, these paragraphs have great practical relevance for modern child-rearing and parental guidance. (The point is; where have we gone wrong?)  These are the kind of thoughts that we keep wrestling with, particularly when our certitudes have been shaken and deepened to the point that our feelings and emotions have lost the ray of hope.

The choice not to exclude the following paragraphs will surely please our Almighty. These sentences are all commands, laws, and regulations that the Lord your God told me to teach you so you may obey them… and so you and your children and grandchildren might fear the Lord your God as long as you live. If you obey all his laws and commands, you will enjoy a long life.

Listen closely, Israel, to everything I say. Be careful to obey. Then all will go well with you, and you will have many children in the land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you. Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves whole heartedly to these commands I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are away on a journey, when you are lying down and when you are getting up.

Putting it to practice
Equipping prisoners for life after release

In summary, a rehabilitated prisoner is not one who learns to survive well in prison but one who succeeds in the world outside prison after release. If prison authorities are to give priority within their programme of activities to what the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights describes  as the  “reformation and social rehabilitation” of prisoners, they will need to base the activities in the prison on giving prisoners the resources and skills they need to live well outside prison.

This means for example, linking the work that prisoners do in prison to the work possibilities outside. Prisoners should be helped to get the skills and capacity to earn a living and support a family, bearing in mind the discrimination that ex-prisoners are likely to face when trying to find work.

During the time that men and women are in prison, arrangements should be set in place to help them find somewhere to settle after they are released and to create some form of social structure which will help them to be re-accepted into society.

Using civil society organisations
None of this will be easy to achieve, especially in circumstances where many jurisdictions face severe overcrowding, a shortage of trained prison staff and few opportunities to make links with the world outside the prison, as well as a hostile reception for prisoners from outside society when they leave. The principles set out in this instance are to establish goals towards which prison administrations should work within the limits of the resources available to them.

They should also consider developing partnerships with civil society and educational organisations in the community in order to increase the opportunities available to prisoners.

We can go as far to Malaysia, where they have experienced a workable rehabilitation programme. To keep it simple, In Mauritius, the government minister responsible for prisons wanted to increase the opportunities for prisoners’ social reintegration and combat the prejudice which faces ex-prisoners particularly in a small society where most people are known to each other.

He therefore organised a week of opening the prisons to the media, encouraging journalists to interview prisoners and staff about the problems prisoners faced on release and stimulating a debate about the importance of society making an effort to help ex-prisoners re-establish themselves.

We can further argue that this is not a rocket scientist subject. It is also clear that there is an impact on the human dimension, which is unavoidable. This experience can be seen as a matter of choice, to each individual. And forget not that, our perception will always assassinate our thoughts and how we win in life.  Yet, this can only be felt when the choke is burning us.

In the meantime, we should not walk away from the reality that in society at large, we have many self imprisonment inhabitants than the actual number in our penitentiary system. That can be seen in many forms; the truth is that we have not yet been convicted. The fortunate defense mechanism being used to build our fortification are repressing and compressing our unlawful activities until the ‘D’ day.

Meanwhile, our reflection is to think seriously that, “the greatest disservice mankind has successfully done is to keep others ignorant in a knowledge base environment just to take advantage of them”. We have to stand together against this “deception”. The price is dear, because we shall all, each and every one stand before the eyes of God to speak and answer what we have done.

Gelage Hoareau
Former Superintendent of Seychelles Prisons

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