Botswana's Prison System Is Failing To Serve Its Purpose Of Reforming Convicts

Yesterday evening I was listening to a rather interesting show on one of the local radio stations, Gabz FM. The studio guests were two gentlemen who are ex-convicts and had formed an organization after serving their sentences whose goal was to be to raise awareness about how to best go about coming up with ways to reform convicts as well as other prison issues.

From listening to the show and hearing the points raised by the studio guests, it became apparent that Botswana's prison system still has a long way to go if it is to be efficient in reforming convicts. To start with—if the words of the gentlemen are anything to go by—calling Botswana's prisons "correctional and rehabilitation facilities" would be a misnomer. From the absence of even the most basic rehabilitation programs to severe understaffing as well as denial of basic human rights to prisoners, it would seem like Botswana prisons do more to harden criminals than actually reform and rehabilitate them.

As aforementioned, prisons are supposed to be correctional facilities where those who have done wrong by society should be able to see the error of their ways and reform in the time they spend there. The bill for running the country's prisons is footed by the taxpayer so it only makes sense that whichever initiatives are put in place in the prisons should be beneficial to the taxpayer and that benefit should be the reform and rehabilitation of those criminals because, at the end of the day, after they serve their time, those convicts are going to come back and be a part of society. Should those initiatives and programs not work or be totally absent—which seems to be the case in Botswana prisons—the taxpayer will lose twice, first from the wasted funds spent on taking care of the criminals when they were locked up and secondly from having an even more hardened criminal walking the streets after serving their time.

Prisons should not be places where we lock criminals up, throw away the key and let them rot. Treating them like that benefits no one and actually serves to worsen the lives of the community as evidenced by the number of repeat offenders in the country's crime statistics. To deal with the harrowing crimes committed by these repeat offenders who are a result of the defunct prison system, the community ends up resorting to "barbaric and uncivilized" measures like mob justice which the government replies sternly objects when they are the ones who failed to reform these criminals in the first place and then expect the community to sit back and take the criminals' blows with a smile.

Horrible and inhumane as some of the crimes they have committed are, convicts are still humans and will return to be a part of society after they serve their sentences. Treating them like animals only serves to reinforce their inhumane instincts and makes them even more of a threat to society after they get released. To prevent this, rigorous prisoner reform systems should be put in place to appeal more to their humane sides and ensure that they are a benefit to society after their sentences are complete.

If the country's prison system continues to operate the way it does as described by those gentlemen on the show, Batswana should brace themselves for increases in violent crime rates in the coming years. How can we expect a criminal to reform when they are denied basics like shoes and toothpaste? How can we expect violent criminals to see the error of their ways when they spend their time in prison telling stories of their crime adventures for entertainment because there are no other activities to do? How can we expect to appeal to criminals' humanity and make them upstanding citizens when they are treated like animals whilst locked up?

No one is asking for prisons to be turned into five-star hotels but rather structure them in such a way that they will serve their basic and core mandate which is reformation and rehabilitation. Give the convicts opportunities to become better people and an asset to the community as soon as they step out of prison. Give them life skills, create activities for them that will shift their focus from their past lives of crime and staff prisons sufficiently enough to ensure that all the programs and initiatives to achieve that run effectively.

As much as it would be satisfying to most people to see some criminals rot in prison, if we look at the bigger picture, this is counterintuitive to what we want to achieve as a country which is lower crime rates. Our attitude towards convicts should change if we do not want them finding solace in a life of crime again after serving time. If someone has committed a crime, served their time and is actively trying to reintegrate themselves into society, it is no use to treat them in a way which constantly reminds them that they are a criminal. As a matter of fact, it just pushes them to go back to a life of crime because that is what society thinks and expects of them anyway.

Botswana's crime rates have been surging over the last few years and if the government continues to not care less about prisoner reform and rehabilitation and society continues with their sneering attitude towards ex-convicts, they will continue to go up. Therefore, in our quest to reduce crime in our country, the responsibility falls on all of us to ensure that at least those criminals who have felt the full wrath of the law—which seldom happens because of a defunct justice system—are transformed and molded into citizens who will benefit the country in some way.

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