Correctional Services Minister says reading by inmates is at the centre of rehabilitation of offenders

Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele says reading by inmates is at the centre of rehabilitation of offenders.

As part of National Book Week (NBW) from 2nd to 7th September, Minister Ndebele attended the nation-wide NBW 2013 celebrations at the St. Albans Correctional Centre in Port Elizabeth today.

Addressing the event, the Minister said: “As the reading culture remains minimal, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is working towards promoting a culture of reading, and writing, in correctional centres. We want to project reading as a fun activity, which expands horizons of knowledge for both offenders and officials. Barely two months after our launch of the ‘Reading for Redemption’ programme, here at St. Albans Correctional Centre on 17th September 2012, books, worth more than a million rand, were donated to correctional centres. Correctional Services is fortunate to partner with the South African Book Development Council, in order to achieve rehabilitation through the culture of reading and writing.

“Research shows there is an inverse relation between knowledge, culture and crime.  The greater the knowledge, culture and access to education, the less the crime. It is for such reasons that we have made education, skilling and training of offenders compulsory at DCS. According to the Freedom Charter, ‘Imprisonment shall be only for serious crimes against the people, and shall aim at re-education, not vengeance.’

“Section 35(2)(e) of the Bill of Rights says, ‘Everyone who is detained, including every sentenced prisoner, has the right  to conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity, including at least exercise and the provision, at state expense, of adequate accommodation, nutrition, reading material and medical treatment.’ Reading for Redemption is, therefore, part of our efforts to deliver on this fundamental Human Right.

“We are mandated by legislation to deliver justice for victims, and ensure that offenders make restitution both to society for their crimes and leave correctional centres with better skills and prospects. During this Year of the Correctional Official, officials are also expected to begin to take their education seriously. Correctional Officials are the custodians of the Reading for Redemption Programme. Hence, they must lead by example by reading books.

“It is said that there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. It is for this reason that, as DCS, we are encouraging offenders to reflect on their lives, and write down their experiences. We have been successful, this year, to publish a collection of poetry entitled, ‘Unchained’.

“At DCS, we do not give up on anyone. We have faith, and proof, that rehabilitation works. We impact the heads, hearts and minds of offenders so that, upon release, they can leave with at least a skill in one hand and a certificate in the other hand. By promoting a culture of reading, we affirm that it is ‘Better to Light a Candle than to Curse the Darkness’. More still needs to be done, and we thank the Department of Arts and Culture for not neglecting correctional facilities when they budget for library books. Corrections is a societal responsibility. We want to thank those writers who have partnered with us in imparting storytelling, and poetry writing, skills to our offenders. We encourage other authors to do likewise. Society at large, including business, please donate books to our libraries. Ex-offenders must be fully integrated into society. They must be able to meaningfully participate in the knowledge economies of the 21st century.

“On Robben Island, apart from the nourishing solidarity, and counsel, from fellow comrades, books became the very cornerstone of our political maturity and personal development. Robben Island transformed you from being merely a ‘klip gooier’ to a serious appreciator of ideas, and how, through knowledge, we could transform our society for the good of all. It was through books, and discussions, that we refused to be reduced by prison and its brute, authoritarian culture. Frederick Douglass once remarked, ‘knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave’. A book, for Kafka, ‘must be the axe for the frozen sea within us’. Political prisoners read, and refused to be degraded by Robben Island.

“It was the hunger for knowledge, and books, in prison that produced a pan-Africanist thinker, and leader, like Malcolm X. He revealed that ‘[his] alma mater was books, a good library…. [and] could spend the rest of his life reading, just satisfying his curiosity’. He also remarked that ‘once you learn to read, you will be forever free’.

“Writers, including aspiring ones in our correctional centres, must also get into the habit of reading other author’s books. Samuel Johnson says that, ‘The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write. A man will turn over half a library to make one book’. Stories conquer fear, and make the heart grow bigger. If we can succeed in becoming a reading nation, we can rise like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes of division, and conflict, which characterised our recent past. A reading nation is a successful, and progressive, nation. At the centre of DCS rehabilitation, education and training of offenders, we have thus put primacy to the subject of reading by inmates,” said the Minister.

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