n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Offender rehabilitation in the South African correctional system : myth or realty

Volume 20, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Rehabilitation is a process - not an event - to bring about change within the offender and to change anti-social attitudes and behaviour. The South African Department of Correctional Services is responsible for the offering and implementation of rehabilitation programmes to offenders imprisoned by the courts of law. The Department of Correctional Services is currently in the process of transformation, with the offender becoming the focal point through placing rehabilitation firmly at the centre of its activities. Rehabilitation is seen as a process, and not an event or programme, aimed at addressing the specific history of the offender's criminal behaviour. Education and training programmes are just some of the tools that are being used to activate the offender rehabilitation process. These initiatives are supported by social work as well as psychological and spiritual / religious counselling. To guide the Department in becoming an offender rehabilitation-centred institution, a cabinet-approved document, known as the White Paper on Corrections, was published. Certain objectives against which the Department should be measured are set out in this document. Although it is firmly believed that the guidelines in the White Paper on Corrections will pave the way to reduce recidivism, the South African criminal justice system does not have a scientific mechanism at its disposal to track offenders after their release from prison, nor to keep track of reoffending and resentencing. A further obstacle to the implementation of offender rehabilitation plans is the fact that South African prisons are seriously overcrowded. A statistical analysis shows that there is a major shortage in educational service delivery due to the fact that for 13 percent of all sentenced incarcerated offenders there is no opportunity to participate in educational programmes. This shortcoming is exacerbated by the shortage of specialised educational staff as well as social workers and psychologists within the Department of Correctional Services. This constraint is aggravated by the overcrowding problem. On the positive side it should be mentioned that, not only is there a satisfactory pass rate among offenders writing the educational examinations, but there is also an increase in the number of offenders participating in vocational training and occupational skills programmes. However, as long as the offender primarily regards rehabilitation programmes as an instrument to influence the parole board, rehabilitation will largely remain a myth.

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