Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Beyond The Prison Wall

Tshepo Foundation, my current placement site, has certain companies and people who donate goods, supplies, money, etc.  One of their largest partners is the G4S Mangaung Maximum Security Prison in Bloemfontein.  The prison donates surpluses of onions, pumpkins, spinach, among other food parcels.  But what is special about this partnership is that the prison is also based on a principle of hope.

Today I had the opportunity to tour the G4S prison with Peter, my supervisor, and another local pastor.  Our tour was led by the prison chaplain, Rev. Dawid Kuyler.

The G4S prison is a private prison which is owned and operated by a British company.  The prison is the second largest private prison in the world, housing close to 3,000 inmates.  As it is a maximum security prison, every inmate has been sentenced to at least 10 years of internment.    However, G4S is unlike any prison I have ever heard of before.  They take a very different approach to the justice system, one that could prove to be a pioneer in the criminal justice system.

At the G4S prison there are no armed guards.  The only thing guards have on them is their ID card and a walkie-talkie.  That’s it.  You might think that’s a crazy concept, and you wouldn’t be alone.  But at the G4S prison, the inmates are treated in a way that makes them not want to commit crimes.  They are treated like human beings.

The first thing that happens to an inmate when he arrives at G4S Mangaung is he gets a cup of coffee or tea while discussing the prison.  From the very onset the inmates are treated with dignity and not as a menace to society.  As is often the case in government run prisons, especially in the United States, is that prisoners actually become more dangerous, violent and aggressive while in prison.  They then are released into society as a more dangerous person than when they entered prison.   At G4S, this is avoided.

On all of the employee’s badges, the term “Care and Justice” is written.  This is the concept in which G4S operates.  They provide care for the inmates.  Here are some of the amenities of the G4S Managaung prison:
-Hospital
-Basketball courts
-Soccer fields
-School
-Pool tables
-Exercise equipment
-A religious and secular library

The largest and most fascinating and beneficial difference with the G4S prison is that they provide inmates with skills that will benefit them after their release.  For example, we toured the many workshops at G4S in which inmates were learning woodwork, candle making, arts and crafts, copy machine maintenance, leatherwork, tailoring, and computer literacy.  These are skills that will give the inmates a chance to make a personal income after being released.  It’s true rehabilitation.  For many of the inmates, they had no previous knowledge of their newly learned crafts.  But they now have a valuable skill.  And what is so great is that many of the goods they produce at the prison are either donated to local charities or sold to the community at a low cost.  It is true community involvement and empowerment. 

Not once while touring the prison did I feel uncomfortable or in danger.  I greeted many of the inmates who did the same with a smile on their faces.  In the 10 years of operation, there has only been 1 attempted escape.  It is very rare that inmates will perform dangerous activities, and there is a good rapport between the inmates and employees. 

This was an eye-opening experience for me.  Never before did I know such hope and potential survived behind prison walls.  As I was walking the grounds of the prison, there were inmates playing a game of softball, some cutting the grass, some working out.  I felt as if I was in a little village-a village of hope.  And as pastor Dawid said on our tour today, “The great thing is Tshepo provides hope to people on the ‘outside’ and we provide hope to people on the ‘inside.’”

My hope is that more correctional services emulate the G4S model, and people are given the chance at true rehabilitation which will only benefit our society as a whole.

1 comment:

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