14.01.2012 Feature Article

Challenges Of The Prisoner: Prior To Release And After

Challenges Of The Prisoner: Prior To Release And After
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Challenges Of The Prisoner : Prior To Release And After

By Abundant Robert K. AWOLUGUTU
Prisoners, whether convicts or remandees would eventually return to mainstream society. Apart from its traditional role of keeping prisoners in safe custody, it is also incumbent upon prison authorities to reform inmates to facilitate their successful reintegration into their communities after serving their sentences. When prisoners are discharged, they should be able to live an independent life devoid of crime. Not only that they should be able to contribute towards the development of society.

International standards require Correctional facilities to fulfill this important function. For the avoidance of doubt, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for The Treatment of Prisoners, Rule 58 specifically states: “The purpose and justification of a sentence of imprisonment or a similar measure deprivative of liberty is ultimately to protect society against crime. This end can only be achieved if the period of imprisonment is used to ensure, so far as possible, that upon his return to society the offender is not only willing but able to lead a law-abiding and self-supporting life.”

Prisoners face a lot of challenges when the time is approaching for them to be discharged from prison. Days before the date for discharge, it is an exciting experience for some prisoners because they are going to get their freedom back, but for others, it is a stressful period since they do not know what life would be like in free society after having spent many years behind bars.

Among the multiplicity of challenges, the following readily come to mind:

The issue of homelessness is very real to some prisoners. Some did not have a place they could call a home and led street lives engaging in various social vices and criminal activities. The thought of returning to a life of streetism after release is scarring to some of them.

Before their incarceration, some prisoners were jobless. They had no employable skills and engaged in criminal activities in order to survive. This brought them into contact with the criminal justice system.

If for one reason or another a prisoner is unable to learn a trade while in prison, finding work to do could pose a serious challenge after discharge. It is difficult to get a job in Ghana if you have a criminal record.

Relationship factor
Long periods of incarceration in correctional facilities far away from the prisoner's place of residence could make him lose contact with family members and reputable friends. The break-up of relationships could have serious implications for the social reintegration of such prisoners. Loss of contact with relatives during imprisonment could deprive an ex-prisoner of the needed social support when he exits from prison.

Health related challenges
Prisoners with mental illness and other chronic health problems such as HIV/AIDS and TB will feel apprehensive when they are going to make the transition from prison to free society. With no money, how will they access basic health care and deal with untreated infections when they return to their various communities?

The challenge of having multiple cases
There are situations where we have convicts with other court cases pending. It is mandatory that prison authorities inform the police before such prisoners are released. When such prisoners are legally discharged by prison authorities, they are picked up by the police and sent to court for their trials to continue. Prisoners with multiple cases are not enthused about their release from prison.

The transition of prisoners from prison to life on the outside can be either exciting or devastating depending on the circumstances of each person involved. Certain interventions are needed to minimize the pains prisoners go through days before their release from prison and after.

The way forward
To ensure a smooth transition and facilitate the successful reintegration of released prisoners, certain measures are put in place. There is a period of preparation prior to the discharge of prisoners.

Pre-release programme
The Prison Standing Orders make provision for a pre-release programme for prisoners pending discharge. Standing Orders Nos. 162-164 have the details as follows:

162. Three months before a prisoner serving a sentence of two years and upwards is due for release, he shall be interviewed by the After Care Agent for the purpose of preparing his case for the Discharge Board.

163. All other convicted prisoners shall be interviewed by the After Care Agent but shall not appear before a Discharge Board unless this is considered necessary.

164. Every prisoner shall be kept within the Prison walls during the day prior to his release in order that all the details connected with his release can be attended to and to allow the prisoner to wash his clothes.

The need for a pre-release regime has also been emphasized by international standards.

The preparation of a prisoner for life outside prison begins when he is admitted to prison. Every convict prisoner is made to appear before an Admission Board which assesses him to identify his needs and recommend measures to address them before the prisoner completes his sentence.

For instance, there are educational, counselling, substance abuse, anger management and vocational training programmes aimed at developing the whole personality of the prisoner.

Discharge Board
When a prisoner who is billed for discharge appears before the Discharge Board, his prospects for successful reintegration are considered. He is given professional counseling and advice to help him adjust to life outside prison.

He is made to establish contact with his family and friends to help in his successful return to the community.

The Board makes available to him information on community resources and services that he could access to make his social rehabilitation a success. Community support agencies are contacted to provide assistance to the prisoner due for discharge.

Assistance sought may pertain to his education, employment, housing and health care services to deal with any health challenges the prisoner may have.

As a result of financial challenges, the Ghana Prisons Service provides only transport fares of released prisoners from the prison to the place of conviction of the prisoner. When a prisoner arrives at his destination and is without money, how does he get food, water and possibly accommodation without resorting to crime to make up?

Discharge grant
It is suggested that budgetary allocation to the Prisons be increased to enable prisoners to be given a discharge grant when they are released. The discharge grant should cover transportation and living expenses for the first few days after discharge.

Barriers to employment for ex-prisoners should be removed. The law that prohibits ex-convicts from being employed should be expunged from our statute books.

Reformation and reintegration
The social rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-prisoners needs the support of society. The ex-prisoner should not be stigmatized and socially excluded.

Government should provide funds to enable the Prisons Service undertake major rehabilitation works in the country's prisons. Workshops will be revamped and new ones put in place to benefit the prisoners.

The Prisons as a social control agency should not only reform, it should ensure that prisoners are able to integrate successfully into mainstream society.

Abundant Robert K. AWOLUGUTU
Email: [email protected]
Mob: 0208 455 296

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