Beyond closed doors

When we hear the word ‘Prison’, our perspective is automatically shifted towards a dark place surrounded with high concrete walls, that keeps convicts away from escaping while thrown in a cell for a number of years, waiting for their sentence to be served. A punitive system that its only priority is to control its inmates by fear and punishment, creating an environment of anger, despair and hate.

Research shows that this type of system alone will not only promote mental instability, but is also proven to be ineffective when it comes to rehabilitation, pushing inmates to recidivate again when out into society. Investing in creating a safer and sustainable environment inside the correctional facility is a long-term solution not just for the inmates, who are utilising their time incarcerated adequately and effectively, but also society at large. We need responsible citizens with equipped skills and qualifications getting out from correctional facilities, and not monsters, victims of a punitive system.

Nothing to do with the Past

Rehabilitation is an ongoing process that starts in the correctional facility through various support, education and training programs that an inmate can embark on to address the issues and starts the journey of progress and sustainability. It is therefore important that the process embraces the philosophical reflection that offenders must first fully accept responsibility for their wrongdoings, detaching themselves from the vicious criminal cycle. Human dignity must always be respected and promoted, to truly focus on the personal development of the inmate. The European Prison Rule 72, acknowledges that inmates must be treated with dignity, and that prison staff must be well educated to facilitate the process of rehabilitation. Through a realistic care plan, developed by professional psychologists and social workers, the right methods and frameworks can be adopted to address the needs and ensure that positive rehabilitation is in place (Latessa, 2011).

The Role of Corrections

Prior to the 20th Century a punitive system used to be adopted to manage inmates, by use of punishment and inhumane treatments. Throughout the years, psychologists like Freud understood that punishment alone will only fuel more criminality, and therefore endangering society when an inmate finishes his sentence, and heads back into society. A correctional facility strives to achieve rehabilitation, creating rational individuals so that when they go back into society they can act as responsible citizens. Most correctional facilities adopt the RNR model which focuses on criminal prevention and rehabilitation, to reduce recidivism (Bosma et al., 2016).

Housing Transition

Accommodation is the first obstacle that an inmate has to face as one is released from the correctional facility into an unknown society. Agencies like the ‘Rise Foundation’ and ‘Dar Papa Franġisku’ open their doors to provide shelter for inmates serving their last year of imprisonment, so that the transition can be eased, while helping them to find alternative housing giving them a sense of independence. Offenders who have been convicted once again, have pointed out that one of the key aspects leading to an unsuccessful transition to society, was lack of suitable accommodation (Baldry et al., 2002; Lewis, et al., 2003). Malta’s housing directorate is working with Rise Foundation to improve the current hurdle that inmates face post-incarceration and to ensure that these individuals will not be left in the dark. Schemes related to housing and employment, provides ex-inmates with support and makes them feel more accepted in society thus facilitating their reintegration (diZerega, 2010).

Security & Belonging through Employment

Opportunities and expansion of one’s network are provided by employment, which also contribute to the wellbeing of one’s mental and physical state (Shinkfield, Lavelle and McPherson, 2004). Looking for employment as an ex-inmate is a serious challenge, and certain barriers make it even more difficult. Employment is one of the key important pediments in keeping ex-inmates away from crime and re-offending, as it gives them a sense of security and belonging in contributing to society. In Malta, Jobsplus have been operating a scheme called ‘Bridging the Gap’, aimed for vulnerable people in which the employer can evaluate the situation of the client, while Jobsplus put forward assistance with the necessary services, so their client can actually improve one’s performance to become employed. NGO’s like ‘Rise Foundation’ and ‘Mid-Dlam għad-Dawl’, give support and also assistance in finding jobs for their residents undergoing one of their rehabilitation programmes. Employment provides opportunities which also expand their social network and caters for yielding productive societal members while enhancing both their physical and mental wellbeing.

Sociological Perspective

Certain individuals may fall victim to intergenerational realities and through cultural and/or social influences, that individual can end up in a road of chaos and criminal activity. The structural theory focuses on the ambitions of success, education and wealth, and how an individual’s social status/class can lead to criminality, falling short from society’s norms, values and duties, creating a world of exclusion, betrayal and bad habits, which eventually leads to imprisonment. Therefore, that’s why it is important and holistically beneficial that society at large are exposed to education, since it is the only way that future generations can understand and respect that certain individuals do need support and guidance to address these issues, and not being in front rows judging and stigmatizing them. As a society we must truly help these individuals to have a positive reintegration back into society, without actually judging them on their past experiences.

Imagine an inmate living a number of years inside a small cell, his normality is trauma and fear, in a degrading inhumane environment, fuelling one’s anger every single day. The system will be creating rebellious inmates, that it’s them against society. How can an individual be blamed after he falls prey to this punitivity. The correctional facility is obliged to create a viable long-lasting environment and implement sustainable rehabilitation programmes, but on the other hand society must also look at ex-inmates from a less judgemental point of view, and truly see beyond closed doors to ease the process of reintegration of a rehabilitated individual back into society as a responsible citizen.

This article is based on the author’s research in partial fulfilment of his awarding of the degree of Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Social Policy at the University of Malta.

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