Prison inmates at Johannesburg (Sun City) Correctional Services are entertained by singer Crystal Webb following an awards ceremony for offenders involved in rehabilitation programmes. File picture: Chris Collingridge

Hopefully a greater slice of the Department of Correctional Services budget will be allocated to rehabilitation of inmates, says Kyla Herrmannsen.

Johannesburg - During the two years Thabang* spent in prison after stabbing his cousin with a kitchen knife in a drunken brawl, he received neither counselling nor rehabilitation for his substance addiction problems. So it was hardly surprising that not long after his release, he returned to his old habits: heavy drug and alcohol abuse.

“I was a horrible person, especially when I was drunk,” Thabang said just before his release. “There would be at least three offences reported to my family every day… I used to be a trusted man in society… I started drinking, smoking, beating up people so eventually I started losing my reputation… (Now) people are expecting to see big things from me. They want to see what direction I’m going to take.”

According to Meshack Vilakazi, a senior facilitator with restorative justice NGO the Phoenix Zululand Project: “He went down the drain after his release. He lacked support from his family and friends… He was in the quagmire and he couldn’t come out. In prison, they just look after them, opening and closing doors.”

Though Minister of Correctional Services Sbu Ndebele has repeatedly emphasised a “policy shift from historical custodial warehousing to rehabilitation”, budgetary allocations do not appear to reflect this. Of the R19.7 billion allocated to the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) in the latest Budget speech, only R1.747bn will be spent on rehabilitation of inmates, just over 5 percent of the DCS total 2014/15 spend.

Unable to provide a budgetary allocation for substance abuse rehabilitation in particular, ministerial spokesman Logan Maistry told the Wits Justice Project (WJP) that “more and more of the budget of DCS is progressively being spent towards the goals of rehabilitation.

To narrow DCS’s efforts towards rehabilitation of offenders to a single programme, and monetary figure, is fundamentally incorrect and totally misleading”.

While Ndebele stated during his 2013/14 Correctional Services Budget Speech that the White Paper on Corrections represented a “final fundamental break with a past archaic penal system, and ushers in a start to our second decade of freedom where prisons become correctional centres of rehabilitation”, a far greater slice of the budget is required to dent the problem.

“It’s called ‘correctional services’,” observed director of the Phoenix Zululand Project, Nonceba Lushaba, “but the budget doesn’t correlate… we need to move towards a time (when) ‘corrections’ are prioritised.”

Arguably, “corrections” are prioritised to a greater extent in the UK where in 2008, after the UK Drug Policy Commission criticised ineffective drug rehabilitation, the Ministry of Justice and Department of Health jointly increased spending on prison rehabilitation.

At the time, UK public health minister Dawn Primarolo said: “This offers a real chance for offenders to break free from a cycle of drugs and crime.”

Later this year, Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland is set to open a specialist drug rehabilitation unit. The first of its kind in the UK, the unit will offer intensive assistance to inmates with substance addiction problems. In the absence of such units locally, organisations like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) run addiction recovery programmes in prisons nationwide.

In one Gauteng Medium A prison yard, for example, a group of inmates facilitated by an AA member from “outside” meet every Friday morning under a tree, where inmates are taken through the “Big Book”, the AA “bible”, and encouraged to process the root cause of their addiction.

“I could have been on that bench,” a facilitator recently told the group, indicating that if he had continued abusing alcohol he would also have ended up behind bars. “When I had one beer, the beer in my stomach would say ‘come, come I’m looking for a chommie’ and then that beer’s chommie would need another chommie, and so on,” he explained.

However, warders often appear unsupportive and show little faith in the substance abuse rehabilitation process.

During a recent meeting attended by the WJP, a warder yelled to a group of inmate attendees: “Dit gaan jou nie help nie.” (That won’t help you.)

An inmate at a recent AA meeting confessed: “It’s only us inmates who are rehabilitating each other… the officials don’t rehabilitate us.”

This is despite Ndebele’s comments that: “Prisons are now correctional centres of rehabilitation. Offenders are given new hope, and encouragement, to adopt a lifestyle that will result in a second chance towards becoming ideal citizens.”

Do addicts go “cold turkey” in prison and “recover” by virtue of the lack of access to drugs and alcohol behind bars?

Last month’s stabbing of Clive Derby-Lewis – serving a life sentence in Pretoria’s Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Centre for his role in the assassination of Chris Hani – by an allegedly drugged-up inmate using a sharpened spoon perhaps indicates otherwise.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that both drugs and alcohol are freely available, and warders are often complicit in smuggling contraband into prisons, a perception reinforced by the recent “Waterkloof Two” prison party video, which also raised questions about remorse and rehabilitation.

The video, which resulted in their parole being revoked, showed the two young men allegedly drinking alcohol and using a cellphone in their cell.

Another infamous video leaked from Grootvlei Prison in 2002 caught warders red-handed selling drugs and alcohol to inmates. This video, handed to the Jali Commission of Inquiry tasked with investigating corruption within prisons, revealed widespread drug and alcohol abuse within the prison.

Controversially, the video showed warders drinking alcohol with inmates.

Sometimes contraband is not brought in to the prison, but created on site.

According to one Leeuwkop inmate, alcohol is “home-brewed” behind bars, mostly from fruit that is fermented and mixed with yeast and water.

Prisoners at the Suffolk jail in the UK had their fruit quota cut in 2003 after an annual report by the Independent Monitoring Board found that inmates had been pooling their weekly fruit rations and fermenting the fruit to make alcohol.

According to Lushaba, many inmates confirm that alcohol was involved in the commission of their crimes. Take the case of Vusi*, who is serving time for murder in a Gauteng prison.

Vusi says he started drinking heavily while involved in gangs as a youth.

As an adult, he was contracted to the Joburg-based Mafia, ostensibly as a bodyguard: “My employer gave me a gun and said I was going to be his bodyguard. I continued drinking heavily all this time as booze was freely available.”

However, Vusi’s job description soon changed when he was instructed to “eliminate” someone. “I made myself brave by having two large glasses of neat whisky and, with the power of alcohol in me, I went ahead and did the job. The boss gave me R5 000 and vanished. The cops soon tracked me down and arrested me.”

After rising to the ranks of “General” in the 28s prison gang, Vusi – affectionately dubbed “Ali” (after Muhammad Ali) by fellow inmates due to his large biceps – turned his back on addiction and violence.

Today he recruits new members into the Friday AA meetings, of which he himself is a faithful attendee.

Some studies – aided by cases like Vusi’s – demonstrate a link between substance abuse and crime; hence the argument that increased spending on rehabilitation will reduce the phenomenon of re-offending. Dr Lee de Rocha Silva of the Centre for Alcohol/Drug-related Research (CADRe) wrote in a 2008 study titled “The drug consumption and crime history of detainees at police stations in South Africa” that “the concurrence between the level of drug consumption and level of crime pointed to an interactive relationship, ie drug consumption appeared to contribute to participation in criminal activities, and vice versa”.

Commenting on the findings of her study, De Rocha Silva said: “Substantial proportions of persons who have entered the criminal justice system are in need of alcohol and other drug-related rehabilitation services, and, in fact, are amenable to such services.”

Lushaba said the issue of addiction and substance-fuelled crimes “should be an issue that is looked at right from the moment new inmates arrive at reception”.

Luckily for Thabang, The Phoenix Zululand Project sourced a rehabilitation facility for him after his release.

After a successful stint in rehab, he is now employed in the construction industry. Others are not as lucky. “My boozing brought me back here,” confessed an inmate during an AA meeting.

According to DCS spokesman Manelisi Wolela, DCS is “in the process of analysing data on repeat offending patterns to determine where substance abuse has a role of influence in repeat offending”.

Hopefully a greater slice of the DCS budget will be allocated to rehabilitation of inmates in the future and prisons will become “correctional” centres in practice, not just in name.

*Names changed to protect anonymity.

** Kyla Herrmannsen is a member of the WJP, which investigates prison conditions and miscarriages of justice. The project is based in the Journalism Department at Wits University.

*** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star