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Penal reform

17 July 2012 09:57 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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People indulge in crimes due to errors of judgment in the mind. The cure perhaps should be in a medical facility. Correctional facilities should play such a role. Currently our system is 400% above capacity, is drug and disease infested and a school for crime. As a result, the country has an overcrowded system with prison establishments in precarious condition. With a focus solely on incarceration, there is insufficient emphasis or concern for the imprisoned and their rehabilitation and reinsertion into society. This piece sets out options to walk towards greater correctional options.

Inventory on entry as an inmate to identify inmate’s personal strengths, such as education, employment history, and skills. Consider their assets, such as family relationships, social networks, spiritual maturity, and undeveloped talents. Use this inventory in helping  to prepare realistic plans for returning to society from the day they enter facilities. Train designated prison staff to become co-managers with selected inmates as resource persons within each prison.

Review and reform the criminal justice process as a whole from arrest to release and invest in crime prevention and reduction
Imprisonment comes at the end of a long chain of decisions involving legislators and policymakers, the police, prosecutors and courts. Reducing prison numbers is not simply a question of establishing measures which can act as direct alternatives to pre-trial detention or sentences, although these are important.

Divert minor cases out of the criminal justice system

Many countries have systems of diversion, such as police warnings or cautions, restorative justice or mediation options, referral to mental health or drug treatment or prosecutorial fines.

Improve access to justice and case management during pre-trial detention

Countries with the highest levels of overcrowding also have prison populations with the highest proportions of pre-trial detainees. Efforts to address the problem of lengthy pre-trial detention include:  increasing legal aid and assistance and supplementing this by making use of paralegals to provide advice to defendants; enforcing time limits in criminal proceedings; offering bail and other alternatives to pre-trial detention; holding ‘camp courts’ inside prisons; and reforming criminal procedure so that cases are reviewed regularly and brought to a conclusion more speedily.

Develop and implement constructive non-custodial measures and sentences

A range of community-based sentences should be available to courts including discharges, fines and community service and measures should be taken to assist offenders to comply with these. Non-custodial sentencing can be particularly effective for women offenders who are usually apprehended for non-violent crimes and whose crimes are often closely related to their economic and social disadvantage in society.

 Make special arrangements for children and young offenders. Children differ from adults in their physical and psychological development, and their emotional and educational needs. These differences constitute the basis for the lesser culpability of children in conflict with the law and require different responses to be available. For those under 18, traditional objectives of criminal justice, such as repression and retribution, must give way to education and restorative measures. Custodial remand and sentences should be used as a last resort, for the shortest time, and used only in exceptional cases.

Reduce sentence lengths and ensure consistent sentencing practice Prison sentences should be kept as short as possible, consistent with justice being done. In others, administrations fail to monitor and respond to sentencing practices that do not meet the requirement of predictability and consistency. Appropriate guidance is needed to inform independent decision-making by Judges.

Developing opportunities for parole or other forms of early release and assist prisoners on release to prevent their return to prison Parole systems and earned remission provide an incentive for prisoners to behave well in prison and to be rewarded by early release after a programme of rehabilition. Sentences which are served partly in custody and partly in the community under supervision can also reduce pressure on prison places, although it is important that decisions to release prisoners, particularly those convicted of serious crimes, are not made or seen to be made simply to free up prison space.

 (Material from Penal Reform International, our National Human Rights Action Plan and the UNDP Access to Justice Project in SL have informed this article)
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