A friendly environment is being developed in Alex to help reintegrate ex-offenders into the community when they are released from prison.
This through a prison ministry programme which is underway by churches in the township with Leeuwkop Prison under the Department of Correctional Services. It is facilitated by NPO, Blessed Is The Hand That Gives after the prison raised concerns that most offenders at its facility are from the township. In a previous meeting, Chaplain Mpho Chaane said they want to the rehabilitation programme to extend into the community. “This will help to stop many of them from reoffending deliberately in order to return to prison where they feel safe and wanted after they would have been judged negatively and rejected by the community, including by their families,” Chaane said.
The crusade includes the Methodist Church, Joburg Christian Centre, Life International Ministry, Assembly of God, and Grace Point, an agency which is involved with prisoner rehabilitation.
Philemon Matume of Grace Point said the partnership was a community forum on crime awareness and will also bridge gaps in social cohesion which cause youth to offend and re-offend.
“We will extend to schools to help protect and save our future,” Matume said, adding that they will learn from the agency, undergo spiritual work and be given guidelines to ensure the initiative has an impact.
The agency’s Jackie Bryon urged forum members to be discerning when engaging with ex-offenders. “Many of them don’t receive visitors, are apprehensive of how they will be received on their release, fail to adjust to many changes they find and can’t cope with society distancing itself from them causing them to re-offend in order to return to prison,” she said.
“The forum should be a platform to reflect real South Africanness and instil in them and society, godly values of forgiveness, as we all make mistakes and ought to forgive as we expect to also be forgiven.
“We provide offenders structured courses to also instil in them values of responsibility, honesty and forgiveness in a relaxed setting to allow them to express their concerns, pain and apprehension as they prepare for reintegration.”
She said, when released, they agonise about the uncertainty of whether they will find an understanding and caring environment in the community. She urged churches and community organisations to help families and the community to accept and not judge.
Mandy Devis said they provided those in extreme need with once-off material support like clothes to improve their self-esteem when released, however, the forum members are requested not create an environment that will make them dependant on others for their daily needs. “They should only be enabled to feel they belong, as they are provided various skills to assist them to look for work or be self-employed as part of their second chance at a harmonious life in society.”
Rev Smanga Mchunu said they also have partnerships with prospective employers for the ex-offenders. The forum members will work alongside the agency and prison officials at the prison to gain skills for this initiative.