Saving the young

APART from providing supervision and security of prisoners, corrections officers today are burdened with the huge responsibility of reforming prisoners.

Their duties and workload have been enlarged by an emerging trend, the ageing inmate population, some bedridden and others wheelchair bound.

As a result, Fiji’s prisons have become de-facto aged care facilities/mental health hospitals where correction officers have no choice but to take on the added role of full-time caregiver.

So what then is the role of our prisons, rehabilitation or punishment?

It’s about saving, rehabilitation and restoration, points out Francis Kean as he talks about the dramatic change the role of prisons and officers have undergone over the years.

As Commissioner Fiji Corrections Service, he holds strong views about the restoration of young, talented and enterprising first time offenders.

He is focused on bridging the gap between rhetoric and action and has begun an overhaul of the system to give this target group the training and treatment needed to render them useful when they return to society.

Some of the young incarcerated, he said, needed counselling and direction more than anything else because they were products of society and the environment they were raised in.

Personally, Mr Kean hopes there will be a shift in focus from punishment to rehabilitation throughout the criminal justice system. FCS is already set to prepare young inmates for life outside with vocational programs and even a music department.

“We are converting Nasinu Correctional Centre to be a facility for first offenders and young offenders below the age of 25,” he explained. Hopefully this will help transform their lives, but at the end of the day the decision is theirs … whether they want to change or continue down the path of criminality.

“We are thankful to Government for supporting us with budgetary provisions. We are buying machinery, we want to get this up and running by December 1.”

Rehabilitation techniques for Nasinu vary from educational and vocational training to psychological rehabilitation. The idea is to mentally prepare and help the offender learn a skill for use outside the prison.

“We want to teach inmates skills like bricklaying, fixing small engines, fitting and machining, boiler-making work and we are talking to the Youth and Sports Ministry for support with the band in Nasinu,” Mr Kean said.

“They could teach them music and at the same time this band can become a brass band for FCS where we have half made up of prisoners and half made up of FCS staff.”

Under Mr Kean’s leadership, the FCS has increased the number of employed counsellors from one to five. Psychological rehabilitation deals with the various problems the individual offender has or is experiencing.

“For Nasinu, we have engaged psychologists and four junior ones. They play a major role for us, they help us to connect because sometimes when inmates come to prison there is a lot of hurt,” he said.

“We need them to open up for restoration and healing to take place and psychologists have a knack for getting people to open up. It’s sad, but some of the things the psychologists tell me is not for public consumption.”

Mr Kean said the theme of the 37th Asian and Pacific Conference of Corrections Administrators presently being held in Nadi, was Leadership in Rehabilitation and was specifically chosen by Fiji.

“At the end of the day when our officers hear from all the countries, they go back and become more effective in the work that they do,” he said.

“That is why all the courses at our training academy in Naboro have one to two weeks of counselling training embedded, which is done by our psychologists because we want all our staff to be at the forefront of all our rehabilitation programs

“When the prisoner sees the correctional officers doing that, it bridges a lot of gaps. It is a tool for our officers to better execute their duties.”

Rehabilitation takes place inside prison and, in some cases, when the offender is released. There are post-release visits to the family of the offender to gauge the ease of transition into the community. Deserving inmates are eligible for funds to help start small businesses.

“We want to divert them to other options and hopefully reduce the recidivism rates for the benefit of the whole country,” Mr Kean stressed.

“It’s a lot of work and I salute the men and women we have in the FCS for taking on the responsibility of social worker, mentor, healthcare provider and counsellor, among other roles.

“We are at the backhand of all the criminal activity and that is why we are changing our strategy.

“We have moved away from our core business of security and safety. Now we have changed it to through-care. We don’t only want to look after them inside prison, we want to look after them when they leave by monitoring them to ensure they return to the community and contribute positively to our country.

“But once again I stress that rehabilitation needs the support and efforts of all citizens and communities, religious bodies, NGOs, Government and volunteers.

“To that end we’re appreciative of the support from the Youth and Sports Ministry. They are supporting us through the six seeds of success program, they are opening up opportunities for some to go to their vocational training centres.

“With the Social Welfare Department, they support with SME funds.”

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