Pretoria — Offender labour will soon be utilised more often to revamp and furnish schools in South Africa, the Correctional Services Minister, Sibusiso Ndebele, has announced.
"We are currently in discussions with the Department of Basic Education to utilise offender labour to build, maintain and manufacture furniture for schools," Ndebele said, adding that this was in addition to what was already being produced in correctional centres.
The minister said key to the rehabilitation of offenders was empowering them with skills to function effectively in society upon their release, however, it was equally important to ensure offenders were actively involved in productive activity while they served their sentences.
Ndebele was speaking at a two-day national colloquium in Johannesburg hosted by the department.
More than 170 representatives from various organisations, including government and civil society, are attending the two-day colloquium to discuss overcrowding, alternative sentencing as well as remand detention management as part of solutions to South Africa's high rate of incarceration and breaking the cycle of crime.
Delivering the opening address, Ndebele said: "The Freedom Charter states that imprisonment shall be only for serious crimes against the people, and shall aim at re-education, not vengeance."
Ndebele said it was accepted worldwide that 95 percent of all inmates would ultimately return to their communities at some point, therefore, conviction and sentencing could no longer be meted in isolation from eventual reintegration.
He said the department must ensure that rehabilitation programmes impacted the hearts, heads and hands of offenders.
"The establishment of a trading entity is being prioritised which will impact positively on utilisation of offender labour. Through this trading entity, we can offer our customer base consisting of government, NGO's and the private sector a wide variety of products and services, ranging from furniture, clothing, steel works, food products, agriculture and many others.
"In addition, we will continue to donate these products to disadvantaged communities from time to time to help alleviate poverty," he said.
Ndebele said overcrowding was the single most pressing concern facing correctional services around the world. The World Prison Brief currently places South Africa in the top 10 in terms of inmate population.
South Africa sits at number nine worldwide with 310 inmates for every 100 000 of its people.
"I am convinced that the deliberations today and tomorrow will bear fruit for future action and improvements in our correctional system. Let's continue this dialogue towards finding solutions to South Africa's high rate of incarceration and breaking the cycle of crime," Ndebele said.
Earlier this month, the Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC), situated just outside Bloemfontein, donated 32 refurbished desks to Gonyane Primary School. To date, MCC has revamped 1 528 school desks for primary schools in the greater Motheo district.
The inmates at MCC, who received training in various skills, sanded down school desktops and gave it a fresh coat of paint. Those tops that could not be repaired were replaced with new tops.
The frames were then spray-painted and the tops fitted. Old Mutual joined G4S Care and Justice Services in this outreach programme and donated funds for the purchasing of the material for the refurbishment process.
In July this year, Ndebele, together with offenders, gave the underprivileged 46-year-old Tsakane Primary School in Tsakane Township near Brakpan in Gauteng a makeover.
Offenders from the Boksburg Correctional Centre repaired desks, installed library shelves and burglar bars, cleaned the school yard, fixed broken classroom windows, repaired the fence, painted the school and developed a vegetable garden in order to alleviate severe infrastructural challenges at the school.
Also in July, Ndebele was in Mpumalanga where the Ezakheni Combined School received a donation of 2 178kg of five types of fresh vegetables, planted and cultivated by offenders from Piet Retief Correctional Centre, 900 grey trousers manufactured by offenders from Witbank Correctional Centre, 900 white shirts made by offenders from Mogwase Correctional Centre, several pairs of school shoes, and 834 dozen of eggs from Losperfontein Correctional Centre.