Rehabilitate offenders

Rehabilitate offenders

HIGH Court judge, Justice Molefi Makara, last week strongly rebuked the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) for bringing into his courtroom five soldiers who are charged with murder in shackles.

Justice Makara told the bemused prison officers that “a court is not an extension of the prison cell” and that all accused must come to court and “experience an atmosphere of freedom”.
Under that premise no one should come to court shackled in leg irons, Justice Makara fumed.
It is critical to bring this rebuke by Justice Molefe into perspective.

A week earlier, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane had told a sod turning ceremony in Qacha’s Nek that he wanted to make Lesotho’s prisons so brutal that they would be unbearable for inmates.
Thabane vowed to make “prisons miserable”.

We humbly beg to differ with the Prime Minister.
While Thabane might have packaged his message for a specific audience, riven by crime, the premier must resist taking the populist route in dealing with issues of crime and the punishment of offenders.

Lesotho must comply with international statutes that govern how prisoners are treated. Even the worst of scoundrels in society deserve a measure of protection and respect once they are taken in as prisoners.

Thabane’s call to make prisons uninhabitable runs counter to the new global thinking that our prisons must be humane.
Such a call, unfortunately, will drag us back to the dark days of the past when prisoners were subjected to brutal torture to extort confessions.
No one wants to go back to that past.

It is precisely for this reason that ours is called the Lesotho Correctional Service. The idea is to correct and reform offenders.
We can understand why Thabane would push for such a stance. Ours is a deeply polarized society. We are sharply divided on the basis of our political affiliation. Such divisions have been there for decades.

We have not moved an inch from what happened decades ago. We still nurse these historical grievances. And when those we consider enemies are imprisoned, we seek to inflict brutal punishment on them.

It is important to point out that the world has moved away from this stance. Rather than seek to punish, prisons must be rehabilitative. They must reform and rehabilitate offenders.
In fact, how Lesotho treats its prisoners can provide the clearest indication of whether it is fully committed to respect people’s fundamental human rights – the right to life being top among these.
We must move away from the archaic thinking that our prisons are there to punish offenders.

Justice Makara’s rebuke should give the LCS and the Ministry of Justice an opportunity to reflect on how best they can work together to improve the culture of human rights within our prisons.
The LCS must therefore seek to strike a balance between respect for basic human rights and the need for safety and security.
It was not too long ago when the Ombudsman’s office issued a damning report on the state of our prisons. He said our prisons are unfit for human habitation.
Critics say a prison sentence in Lesotho is a ‘slow death sentence’. Our prisons are tough already. We cannot make them tougher and still comply with our international statutes that govern the treatment of prisoners.

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