n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Prison overcrowding in Namibia : the problem and suggested solutions

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For years overcrowding in prisons has been a problem in many countries. In the past, prison officials could afford to ignore it as being part of the hardship prison inmates were expected to endure in consequence of prison sentences. Today, prison administrators recognise that despite imprisonment, prison inmates enjoy some fundamental rights that have to be protected and respected, and that their welfare needs to be maintained within acceptable levels. These ideals cannot be achieved where prison facilities accommodate more prison inmates than they were established for. Although concerned prison administrators may attempt to deal with the problem within the constraints of their own means and powers, in most cases they choose to draw the attention of their governments to how the problem can be alleviated.

In Namibia, overcrowding in prisons has not reached alarming proportions compared to what it is in some neighbouring countries. Officials in the Namibian Prison Service are concerned, however, not only with imprisonment trends but also the number of awaiting trial prisoners that is currently held in police cells. It is for that reason that the introduction of community service, as a mechanism for dealing with short-term offenders who do not deserve to be sent to prisons, is being considered.
The article seeks to highlight the problem of overcrowding in prisons in some countries (South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe) as a way of sensitising policy makers on the importance of taking the decision before the situation gets out of control. The article briefly examines how perceptions of crime and punishment have changed over time, outlines the causes of prison overcrowding and shows, with statistics, the extent of the problem in selected countries. A case for community service, as an option for short-term imprisonment, is made giving the example of successes achieved in Zimbabwe. The article also highlights on potential limitations that have to be borne in mind, and dealt with, if community service is to succeed.


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