The Democratic Alliance welcomes the call from the Minister of Correctional Services for inmates to read more. However, we believe that a better step towards rehabilitation would be through work and skills development.
The Minister has proposed the introduction of compulsory reading time for inmates. Not only will inmates be required to read a book a month but they will have to write a test on the book afterwards. It has even been suggested that those who receive high scores might receive a 48-day reduction in their sentence a year.
This concept of "redemption by reading" is all good and well but the Department's history of successful rehabilitation programmes leaves much to be desired. Who will provide the books? Who will set and mark the tests? The Department has shown that it simply does not have the capacity to manage the existing rehabilitation programmes, far less new ones.
The Minister also said that reading would allow an inmate to "be able to make use of the time at his disposal". The DA proposes that a better use of an inmate's time would be through work. This is in fact stipulated in section 40(1) of the Correctional Services Act, which states that:
"Sufficient work must as far as is practicable be provided to keep prisoners active for a normal working day and a prisoner may be compelled to do such work".
This would go a long way to providing prisoners with the necessary skills to survive when they leave prison.
Although reading is important and contributes to an active mind, the Department should be focusing more on developing the inmates' skills through work programmes. Prisons only work where prisoners work. That should be the primary focus. Prisoners, like the rest of us, should spend time reading once they have finished a productive day's work.
James Selfe, Shadow Minister of Correctional Services