Life after prison is often very difficult. In prison, it is common to feel a loss of freedom and routine and lack of personal safety. When released, a former inmate is expected to work and provide for themselves and their family. Yet social stigma, unemployment, and poverty mean that people often re-offend and end up back in prison. Reintegration is not only important to the offenders themselves; as incarceration rates in South Africa continue to escalate, their family, community, and the public is affected by this problem.
In South-Africa, there is a high turnover of offenders entering and leaving prisons. That means that many people who get out of prison end up there again eventually. “You are part of a cycle of violence, it is difficult to reintegrate, to be respected in society,” said a man recently released after serving twelve years in prison.
WHY IS LIFE AFTER PRISON DIFFICULT?
There are many reasons for this. A study found that, out of the two focus groups interviewed after being released, none of the participants was able to find a job in the first six months after prison. “You are constantly up against these walls. Everyone is prejudiced … You want to start a new life but you can’t find anything to do”, said one of the participants.
Another difficulty is community discrimination- “I wanted to start a business and went to Umsobomvu [Youth Fund] for a loan but they would not accept me because I am on parole”. Discrimination does not only come from the community, but organisations and funds. Drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, homelessness, being HIV-positive, and a lack of education are just some personal challenges faced by released prisoners.
WHY DON’T MORE PEOPLE JOIN REINTEGRATION PROGRAMS?
According to South African law, anyone with a sentence that is less than ten years is not assisted by rehabilitation or reintegration programs – this means that around 40% of the total prisoner population will never receive any form of help re-entering their community when they are released.
Not many people in South Africa know of reintegration programs. Those who do have often been disappointed by government initiatives, which have proven to be prejudiced and inefficient. Still, although the DCS Community Corrections, and the Department of Social Welfare and other government services are not very helpful, there are programs that do work!
HOW TO FIND PROGRAMS THAT WORK?
Re-integration is a process – it requires dedication and hard work, but there is proof that it pays off. The purpose of post-prison community re-entry programs is to better protect communities and reduce re-offending. Good ones will help former prisoners deal with reconnecting with friends and family, and will provide them with opportunities and training for work. Some help them identify other ways they can provide for their families, like helping with the housework. Khulisa, Realistic, GRYM (Get Real Youth in Mission) and Focodi (Former Convicted Offenders Development Initiative) have all helped former inmates find jobs. GRYM and Focodi were established by former inmates, which means they’ve been through the same thing before.It has been proven that taking part in these programs can help people build their life up after prison. Although it is hard, it is definitely possible, and no one should give up.