JENIPHER MANASE, Kabwe
FOR some inmates, especially those that have spent many years in prison, getting out comes with a mixture of overwhelming joy and anxiety.
Undoubtedly, life outside these correctional facilities can be a huge challenge – so hard that many ex-prisoners fail to cope and end up getting back behind bars.
Oftentimes, ex-inmates want to start all over again, but do not have the means to start from and live a decent life. Although they may receive counselling coupled with skills development to start a life outside prison, this may not be good enough without a place to call home and start-up capital for a business.
Upon re-integration into society, some of the ex-convicts have no place to call home and resources to start a new life.
Many walk out of prison with nothing except clothes on their bodies. They are then bundled on a vehicle without a Ngwee for a tablet of soap. That’s how bad things can be for reformed outlaws.
However, with the transformation of the Zambia Prisons Services (ZPS) to Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS), emphasis has shifted from the punitive approach to rehabilitation of inmates therefore, the status quo is expected to change with time.
For instance, in Central Province, Mukobeko Skills Training Centre (MSTC) has come up with a new strategy for inmates who are about to complete their jail terms. These are being equipped with life skills to prepare them to earn decent livelihoods when released from prison.
The training centre is registered and accredited to Technical Vocational Education Training Authority (TEVETA) under Act No. 13 of 1998 to offer skills to inmates in bricklaying, metal fabrication, tailoring, carpentry, auto mechanics, painting, general agriculture and power electrical among others.
ZCS commissioner of corrections and extension services Tobius Mwanza says inmates need to adequately utilise the acquired knowledge and skills to lead productive lives after being re-integrated into society.
Mr Mwanza said this when he presented certificates to 88 inmates at Mukobeko Correctional Centre in Kabwe recently.
He urged the convicts to go and invest in the communities as law abiding citizens.
“With this accomplishment, go and plough back in the community and be law-abiding citizens for you to achieve the ultimate goal of a decent life after years of incarceration,” Mr Mwanza advised the graduating in-mates.
The commissioner commended the European Union (EU) and Centro Laici Italiani per le Missioni (CELIM), an Italian organisation, for supplementing Government’s efforts in the provision of education services to inmates and implored other stakeholders to emulate the two organisations.
“Through our open-door policy, we are looking forward to working with other stakeholders, because it is only from combined efforts that we can achieve a complete correctional service in this country,” he said.
CELIM Zambia Country Representative Gianclaudio Bizzotto observed that the training programme demonstrates Government commitment to the transformation of the ZCS.
Mr Bizzotto said although the living conditions in correctional centres are still harsh, the provision of knowledge and skills offers a unique opportunity for inmates to become useful once discharged.
“It is for this reason that CELIM has joined hands with ZCS to purchase school materials for inmates and to pay for their examination fees to enable them to sit for TEVETA-administered examinations,’’ he said.
"In these two years of project activities, we have managed to provide opportunities to 997 inmates, of whom 295 will sit for the examinations in November and December, all thanks to the EU for the funding,” Mr Bizzotto added.
EU representative Elizabeth Loacker said the Union is presently contemplating developing more vocational training programmes for inmates, based on the positive experience of skills training at MSTC.
“I would like to insist on the fact that although inmates are deprived of liberty, we will always make sure that they are not deprived of their rights and attention,’’ said Ms Loacker.
She further stated that the EU is not only involved in the protection of inmates, but also committed to the prevention of overcrowding, which often leads to deplorable conditions in correctional centres.
The EU representative thanked the authorities at Mukobeko Correctional Facility and the inmates for the positive attitude and passion they exhibited during training.
And Rita Chola, a former inmate who was trained while in prison, said the course she undertook has helped her resist the temptation of going back to her old ways.
She said she wants to be an example to former inmates that it is possible to survive on the skills acquired in prison.
Ms Chola counselled former inmates to demonstrate true transformation and not look back to their old ways once released from prison.