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Why rehabilitation may be redundant in South African corrections



Inspiration for rethinking crime critical

Dedicated to Amanda, since she inspired me to rethink the issue of crime – and especially cyber crime – critically.

Stigma hinders sustainable rehabilitation

When I was awarded my PhD in December 2018, I was firmly under the belief that rehabilitation was not only feasible in the South African corrections landscape, but that stigma against ex-offenders was the major stumbling block prohibiting their sustainable reintegration and eventual possible rehabilitation.

Heidegger’s “radical thrownness” demands realistic solutions

Terrifying as the idea might be that rehabilitation could be redundant, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s notion of the “radical thrownness” of our historicity implies that we have to face this fact to find realistic solutions, assuming that there are any.

Stigma as embedded in incarceration

In her very readable book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2012), Michelle Alexander explores the idea of stigma as embedded in incarceration as our dominant sentencing regime (which it need not be).

Perpetual marginality perpetuates recidivism

The disturbing phenomenon of people cycling in and out of prison, trapped by their second-class status, has been described by Loic Wacquant as a “closed circuit of perpetual marginality.” Hundreds of thousands of people are released from prison every year, only to find themselves locked out of the mainstream society and economy. Most ultimately return to prison, sometimes for the rest of their lives. Others are released again, only to find themselves in precisely the same circumstances they occupied before, unable to cope with the stigma of the prison label and their permanent pariah status.

Marginalisation denies basic human needs satisfaction

By marginalising ex-offenders economically and socially, as a stigmatising shaming culture does, they are denied basic human needs satisfaction, which becomes a major source of contention/resentment, and is ultimately bound to lead to conflict (read: re-offending or recidivism).

South Africa has a high recidivism rate

Secondly, recidivism or re-offending is clearly a powerful one in South African correctional institutions. Although no accurate figures appear to be available, indications are that as many as nine out of every 10 ex-offenders return to a life of crime. With a recidivism rate of as high as 90%, South Africa certainly has one of the highest re-offending rates in the world. Stigma, the PIC and the dismissal of basic human needs satisfaction have contributed to this lamentable state of affairs.

Resolve social and behavioural problems

Indeed, as Burton suggests: “The only option, in politically realistic terms, was to resolve the social and behavioural problems that led to specific conflicts, and not try merely to suppress them or to settle them by coercion.”

Speak the unspeakable

Likewise, Pat Carlen argues that “a critical criminology must try not only to think the unthinkable about crime, but also to speak the unspeakable about the conditions in which, and by which, it is known”.

Uncritical legitimisation of criminalisation practices

Indeed, in the perceptive words of Eugene McLaughlin, professor of criminology based at the School of Policy and Global Affairs in the University of London, mainstream criminologists tend to uncritically legitimise the state’s unjustified and unlawful “criminalisation and marginalisation practices”. One such marginalisation practice is the recycling of ex-offenders for profit (and/or other nefarious purpose[s]) rather than public safety.

Philosophical reflection could reveal new solutions

A new, philosophically guided, critically minded paradigm is sorely needed and, in my estimation, already upon us. Even if the rehabilitation paradigm is redundant, fresh, reflective and critical thinking could open valuable, new paths for addressing the problem, as Heidegger would be the first to admit.

About the author

Dr Casper Lӧtter is a conflict criminologist affiliated with North-West University’s School of Philosophy (Potchefstroom).

Views expressed are personal

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.



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