Latest revelations from the safety and security ministry that tax payers will have to fork out N$24 360 000 in the next five years to upgrade education programs within prisons to required standards.
The figure has brought debate from civic society organisation activists and unionists who have expressed different opinions as to whether the state needs to continue carrying such a load at the back of a constrained economy.
The logic behind forking out millions of dollars for prisoners nearing retirement age and still serving 25 years and above has been questioned although another quarter of experts still see the need as valid to avoid “old-age-criminals”.
The safety and security ministry could not be available for further comment on this but it has disclosed that 2017 statistics show that around 37% of long term inmates are illiterate while 63% have reached junior secondary education level.
“This year alone (2018), 1 225 inmates have enrolled in various educational programmes of which 580 are enrolled in the Functional Literacy programme, 56 in Computer Literacy programme, 348 in Adult Upper Primary programme, 119 in the Namcol Grade 10 programme, 92 in the Namcol Grade 12 programme and 30 in various Tertiary Education programmes,” said the ministry.
Yet for Director of Citizens for an Accountable and Transparent Society, Carola Engelbrecht, the logic behind coughing out so much money for inmates, if done at the expense of young “behaving” and “law abiding” students in schools, is unthinkable.
“And they have to sit under a tree or whatever because there is no money to build a class room and then you take that money to prison? Yes, prisoners are also human beings, they also have rights but, I mean, you are in prison partially as a punishment and also to be repatriated. I don’t know what education are they talking about?” she said.
The ministry indicated that it has to provide library services, Information Communication Technology (ICT) support, transportation and officers to facilitate logistical arrangements related to such studies.
Engelbrecht said focus should be shifted more to upholstery and woodwork and wielding so that they do not necessarily need to find employment when they come out.
“But those that have long terms they must be taught the Bible because they have to meet their maker,” she added.
Yet according to Institute for Public Policy Research associate, Frederico Links, indications from South Africa are that those implicated in cash heists are those who would have served longer sentences and had no livelihoods.
“They are in their 60s and 70s and some are in their 80s, they are involved in these massive violent crimes. So as a rehabilitation goal we must provide education so that they don’t go back, or at least try and prevent most of them from going back into the life of crime even if they come out in their 60s.”
“What is a 60-plus-year-old going to do if he is not employed and considered beyond useful but he has nothing? We have to invest if we are serious about rehabilitation. Let’s do it,” said Links.
Labour research expert and Director for Labour Resource and Research Institute, Dr. Michael Akuupa agrees that education for inmates in correctional spaces is supposed to form part of rehabilitation and preparation of their return to wider society upon release.
“In this particular case, unless we know the ministerial motivation for such an investment it will be difficult to comment but rather speculate. Currently, the future of work is very flexible and deregulated that an individual is not entirely supposed to be employed but participate in entrepreneurship and other enterprises that are not conventional in nature.”
“It means one should not necessarily become employed upon completion of their sentence but rather create an opportunity for himself and other members of society. If one become self employed, then the age difference does not quiet matter,” he explains.
Given that case, Dr. Akuupa affirms that it will be a concern if an expectation is for such an individual to be employed at the expense of the young members of society that ideally should enjoy the age of being officially and formally employed.
“In simple terms the formal labour market will not have space for such persons but rather the informal market. As it is, it may even be problematic, because informal employment in Namibia usurp about 66% of the employed persons while about 33% are in what is considered as formal jobs.”
“Either way the space will be very limited. Thus the ministerial motivation should be cleared, whether the type of education they offer is that of skills enhancement or for conventional education,” he articulates.
April 23 data shows that the most common types of offences committed by inmates in correctional facilities were theft and house-breaking.
“Therefore, the ministry recognises that the imparting of practical employment skills to inmates so that they become productive and self-supporting is of paramount importance,” said the ministry.
End of March 2018, 267 inmates were already engaged in various training activities excluding agriculture, the ministry said.
In total, 13 vocational trades are currently functional at five correctional facilities out of the 30 trades planned to be introduced at Windhoek, Shikongo, Hardap, Divundu, Oluno, Walvis bay, Nepemba and Gobabis correctional facilities.