Presidential pardon, social reintegration of offenders

IF there were people who had to celebrate the 55 years of our Union between Tanganyika and Zanzibar in a cheerful mood, these should have been the inmates of the Tanzania mainland prisons whose sentences were reprieved by President John Pombe Joseph Magufuli on the 26th April 2019. On this very day, the President, who is also the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces reduced sentences of 3,530 inmates by quarter as 722 of them walked free from the prison gates!

The presidential pardon has become a tradition and very predictable that on those high profile national festivals the possibility of inmates getting Presidential amnesty is great provided that they display qualities worth meriting such an award.

Unlike those who seem not to think on the positive side of these amnesties, they should be made to understand that such amnesties are part of those measures that tend to entice offenders to behave well, become industrious and more productive while in incarceration. Furthermore it has been proved that about 97 percent of the beneficiaries do not reoffend after their sentences being reprieved.

For those with keen interest on penal issues in particular for Prisons might note that the kinds of Presidential Pardons currently being granted to prisoners differ very much from those amnesties used to be granted in the past. These are very positive clemencies not only to the prisoners but also to the nation.

Without mincing my words, I should say that the kind of pardons we are seeing now confirm to that basic core value of the Prisons Service that “No prisoner is beyond redemption” and that all prisoners regardless of their crimes can be rehabilitated provided that they get the right intervention programmes to address their reoffending attitudes.

Emerging out of age of enlightenment, treatment approach to offenders is thought to be more humane and responds to individual rather than the offence per se. Criminals are considered to be “diseased” in some manner and thus in need of corrective intervention – analogous to approach used in medicine.

Therefore criminals are assumed to be sick and treatable. The medical or treatment model entails an Offender to be diagnosed with intake assessment instruments for their needs and risks after which appropriate programmes can be selected to assist them for their rehabilitation.

Based on the medical analogy, most Correctional systems offer programmes such as anger management, educational and vocational training, life skills as workshops, family intervention initiatives and the likes with intent to help the offender to ‘fix’ his or her problem.

A Correctional psychologist would stick on arithmetical and risk criterions before considering the conditional release of any offender whether on parole or presidential amnesty unlike the lawyer or a politician who would first consider the crime committed.

The arithmetical aspect is important as it confirms the period spent in prisons while the risk aspect is very crucial as it proves that the offender has professionally been assessed and found to have been reformed. There must be empirical evidence that he won’t recidivate. The commission of the crime is considered to be a static factor and it remains to be history that cannot be altered instead what is being addressed is the criminogenic factor the offender has.

The criminogenic factors are those factors that predispose an offender to commit crime and if correctly identified may lead to an effective intervention that may address the reoffending attitude of offenders. This is the crucial area where Prisons Service is concerned. Let us take stock on the Presidential Pardon of the 56th anniversary of our independence in December 2017 when 8,157 convicted prisoners were granted clemency while 1,828 earned immediate release.

This was a very historic clemency where Mzee Matonya at 84 was pardoned. What was Mzee Matonya doing in the prison at that age; was he any more at risk to committing more crimes? That was the turning point in which President Magufuli came with and has shown the way on all the following presidential pardons! Mzee Matonya had spent seven years in remand prison and other 37 years serving the sentence.

That is another reason why some of our prisons are overcrowded because of unnecessary overlapping lengths of sentences originating from faulty sentencing policies which need to be reviewed. This time around, the President has adopted the same progressive method of granting pardon to prisoners on the basis of arithmetical and risk criterions.

The arithmetical part of it is the cutline of March 15 of this year, then followed the criteria of less risk the prisoners have that included the sick ones, HIV/Aids, TB patients, those aged 70 and above and those with physical and mental disabilities regardless of the crimes committed. These are already incapacitated prisoners cannot commit crimes any more.

Globally it is an accepted principle when dealing with parole and other conditional releases that can also allow for life sentenced prisoner to be pardoned. The life sentenced prisoners often experience a range of psychological and sociological effects. Serving an indeterminate sentence has been described by different individuals as “a tunnel without light at the end”.

For administrative purposes in the past, Tanzania Prisons Service considered life sentence as fifteen years and worked on that basis to motivate such a prisoner to adopt prison conditions and behave accordingly for the sake of maintenance of discipline and order within the prison environment. Unfortunately there is a missing link on the released prisoners for their reintegration with the community.

Why shouldn’t the government consider to add value to these releases by creating “After care services” as a way of their social reintegration? In the past, there used to be these Aftercare Services, befittingly they could be replaced by what is known as Half Way Houses or Community/Correctional Supervision Centres where released prisoners would be on transition before joining the society as law abiding citizens.

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