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Supporting inmates after release is key to cutting re-offending
By Liban Obsiye  
Monday March 25, 2024

 

The amnesty provided to 116 inmates in Mogadishu’s central prison this week is more than a public relations stunt as some critics claimed on social media. What prompted me to write this piece is actually the fact that there are those in Somalia who feel amnesties and rehabilitation of offenders is wrong altogether. This could not be further from the truth.

All humans make mistakes and some are severe enough to break the national laws to the extent it warrants imprisonment and loss of liberty for a determined period. However, alongside the need for an independent police investigation into all crimes, the facilitation of a fair trial for the accused and humane conditions during imprisonment, prisoners have a right to rehabilitation. Of course, crimes have several layers of severity and their punishment must be commensurate with this. In this regard, the Office of the Attorney General stated that the majority of the 116 released inmates committed minor offences and had almost served the majority of their time. Despite this, it must be understood that the loss of liberty for any set period of time, no matter how short or long, is punishment enough for inmates and their families who suffer alongside them. 

Am I disregarding victims? Absolutely not. Victims also need support and, where possible and appropriate, restorative justice can be effective in bringing together victims, their families and perpetrators to better understand what happened and explain their actions and feelings. This is also very Islamic and linked directly to the concept of forgiveness for both the wronged and the perpetrator with the former potentially forgiving his aggressor and the latter seeking forgiveness from Allah SWT and his victim. For some punishment focussed critics of this approach, this may not be enough to remedy the situation but the enormous spiritual and emotive power of this method of reconciliation and rehabilitation must never be underestimated or overlooked. 

It is welcome that the released inmates are said to have benefitted from access to medical care, and education and training opportunities during their incarceration. Having visited the Central Prison on a few occasions in the past, I personally witnessed inmates actively learning carpentry and furniture making. Some of the finished products I saw were truly impressive and worthy of been sold in the open market and I understand some even were. However, the question is will opportunities like these be available once they return to society?

Former inmates suffer from stigma in Somalia like everywhere else in the world. A former inmate I spoke to recently who was imprisoned for theft related offences previously said despite now been a rehabilitated Tuk-Tuk driver who earns a decent income, many in his neighbourhood still look at him strangely when something goes missing from homes. It makes him feel sad. Despite this, he is proud that family members from the diaspora were able to lend him the money to buy the vehicle and he has now paid them back in full. However, what assistance is available for the recently released 116 inmates to fully integrate back into society and avoid re-offending? Given Somalia’s relatively non-existent social programs owing to weak domestic revenue and social protection systems, re-offending risks are potentially high. They don’t have to be this way.

Somalia has enjoyed substantial international support in its attempt to rebuild its justice institutions and infrastructure. The extent to which these are a success is another question but where there appears to be no focus or existing policies is the provision of assistance to released inmates to aid their successful integration back into society. This is mainly left to their families and, while this is useful, there needs to be a more targeted policy and processes which supports former inmates and keeps the Somali public safe just like there is for those undergoing de-radicalisation after leaving the terrorist group Al-Shabaab.

There are few employers in Somalia who have jobs to offer and the unemployment rate is huge. There is no credible research on the barriers to finding formal employment by ex-inmates in Somalia but international research and experience shows that they are disproportionately discriminated against in the labour market. So, what can be done in Somalia to help inmates rebuild their lives?

There must be micro-financing options to support them to open small businesses which are easy to access like driving Tuk-Tuks, working in construction with a skill or selling goods and merchandise like fruits, vegetables and other goods. They must also be provided opportunities to benefit from secondary and higher education, and where possible because of their inherent disadvantage and difficult lived experience, be granted discount in the fees from educational providers. Moreover, inmates must also be supported to re-integrate back into their own family lives and counselling, mental health support and mentoring could prove useful in this objective. 

Many justice sector projects in Somalia are narrowly focused on processes and policies without actually thinking about how to improve the system holistically. It is now the right time to put people at the centre and see them all as beneficiaries including inmates during and after release. This is the only way to keep Somali society safe sustainably.

Author can be contacted via:
[email protected]
@LibanObsiye (Twitter).


 





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