Prison Journalism: Understanding recidivism in South African prisons

Dean Mashimbwe, a Zimbabwean migrant residing in Cape Town, was incarcerated at Pollsmoor Correctional Centre from 2016 until 2017.



During my time of incarceration in Pollsmoor, I have witnessed one thing which is a major problem in South African prisons: recidivism. 

The issue of recidivism

Recidivism is a tendency of criminals to reoffend. It has become a routine for some inmates to go back and come to jail now and again. For instance, I have witnessed fellow inmates who were granted parole break the parole rules and come back to prison within 2 weeks. This is also the most common cause of gangsterism in prison, as some inmates, well experienced with jail, tend to recruit other new offenders as well.

Personal experience and causes

Talking about myself, before I reformed, I went in and out of jail several times. I was in Pollsmoor 3 times with different sentences for one offence. The main cause for me to get in and out of jail was unemployment. I ended up stealing, conning people, and living a criminal life. The main reason which made me come back to jail was the environment I was living in—drug world, prostitution, crime, and other illegal activities.

The impact of recidivism on the prison system

Recidivism is the main cause of South African jails being overcrowded, which leads to poor management of inmates. This leads to corruption and other illegal criminal activities. According to my own research, in other countries, recidivism has caused some inmates to escape the prison because they are used to prison life and go and come back to jail now and again. In South African jails, inmates are not given enough punishment so that they can learn and have experience that jail time is not good. There are a lot of drug addicts who live in the streets; their main activity is to practice illegal activities, which includes smoking drugs.

Reintegration efforts and personal transformation

Lack of reintegration into society has caused inmates to go back to jail. As a matter of fact, we currently have the PAR research group, which helps us a lot about going back to prison. Me and other former inmates meet once or twice a month learning; this keeps us busy and we learn about several things which teaches us not to go back to jail. It’s been almost 6 years now ever since I got released from jail. Because of PAR, I have never had a thought of going back to jail again.

Efforts to reduce recidivism

However, the prison has been making a lot of efforts to reduce recidivism by providing programs to prisoners such as restorative justice where inmates learn a lot about coming back to prison after you have been released. Unchanging lifestyle and going back to the same communities have caused a lot of recidivism where inmates go to jail and still commit the same crime they have committed before. But the major cause which makes inmates go back to jail is unemployment. According to the solo research I have made after I was released from jail, is that 80% of the youth in South Africa is unemployed. This causes the youth to use most of their time smoking drugs and committing crime, which makes them go back and come to prison again.

DISCLAIMER: Submission published as received

Should you wish to assist in the rehabilitation of former inmates and help put money into the pockets of those who have struggled to earn a living during and after incarceration, click HERE 

This project in collaboration with RESTORE currently works with formerly incarcerated young men in the communities.

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