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Re-integrating ex-offenders into society

THE supremacy of reason over other forms of judgment such as barbarism, nepotism, partisanship and many of the similar sectarian tendencies represents a key feature of a civilised society.

So stigma and labelling are usually elements of injustice.

The deviant behaviour in society is normally sanctioned or punished with a view of deterring recurrence in both the offender and the potential offenders. 

In the similar manner, the behaviour that society expects is rewarded accordingly.

 When one violates the expected way of life, he/she damages the social fibre and has to somehow pay for the damage. 

In the past, young girls who wore jeans or miniskirts were automatically labeled prostitutes trying to entice men. 

The labelling would be worse in a Basotho village if such a girl was involved in a love relationship with someone with a car.  

The net effect would be that other parents would not want her to interact with their children lest she becomes “a bad influence”. 

In the modern world people who behave in a manner that violates laws enacted by legislative institutions are brought before courts of law. 

First it will be the police who will do the arrest and investigations to prove the presence of guilt based on the law.

The courts of law, an authority different from the police, will prosecute.

Of course this is a civilised procedure where an accused can defend themselves. 

In the event that the accused succeeds, the acquittal would mean there is no guilt hence no punishment by anyone can be given on the basis of the charge.

It is quite different perhaps even indicative of uncivilised culture when one is found guilty. 

Because the primary court may err appeal mechanisms normally release people even those sentenced to death. 

The court system is however not without weaknesses, it entirely depends on evidence and of course technicalities of the law that are best manipulated by  lawyers who are normally accessed through resources that not all the accused have access to.

When one is found guilty the court imposes sentence based on the magnitude of damage to the justice equilibrium in society. 

The offender, crime, community and to a very abstract level except in the special trial such as rape, a victim, are normally used by the court to determine the sentence.

What does a sentence mean in the civilised society?  

If an offender is found guilty as charged and sentenced to a prison term, a correctional institution as latterly known, the purpose is to keep him/her away from the society she/he wronged to allow the society to heal while at the same time he/she will have time committed to rehabilitation.

 Off course many offenders cause pain as some kill, destroy lives, and cause lifelong inconvenience but sentencing them is a civilised cleansing ritual. 

It is logical therefore to conclude that once sentence is completed, correction and rehabilitation on the part of the offender will be complete as well. 

In the similar manner the pain and inconvenience caused on the society would have been ameliorated. 

A person who is released from a correctional institution gains all the previously held freedom and other rights. 

It is a practice that public service seeks the so called criminal record when one applies for a job in the civil service. 

In simple terms if you have a criminal record you do not qualify to work in the civil service. Why? 

Of course the public service fears you, it thinks you will repeat the criminal acts committed in the past.

But what does the public service think the sentence and serving it meant? 

The similar conditionality is placed for admission at institutions of higher learning, applying for a job in other institutions etc. 

Are we not made to believe that these institutions are headed by civilised and educated people?

There are many laws that prohibit ex-convicts from serving in positions of responsibility.

Discriminating one on the basis of having been in prison is not only labelling but a double sentence.

It is characteristic of uncivilised societies.

In serving their sentence, offenders learn many skills to keep them away from crime and to create employment for themselves and others.

How would they do that when they cannot even win tenders for the work they have been trained to do for years?

Sofonea Shale is a civil society activist in Lesotho. You can reach him at shalesofonea@yahoo.com.

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