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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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LOTTER, Casper. Ex-offenders should be appointed as prison wardens: Can South Africa learn from this new international trend?. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2019, vol.59, n.4, pp.493-511. ISSN 2224-7912.

In view of the Department of Correctional Services' serious shortage of prison wardens and personnel, I critically investigate the idea of the possibility of recruiting model ex-offenders as prison wardens. Both high levels of violence as well as a critical shortage of personnel in the Department were recently highlighted by South Africa's new Minister of Justice and Correctional Services. Cross-cultural or comparative criminology and post-Marxism (in the tradition of Frankfurt School Critical Theory) are employed as a theoretical framework and methodology respectively. In respect of the latter, the relevant thought of three representatives in this tradition (Horkheimer [first generation], Habermas [second generation] and Žižek [third generation]) are considered in order to build a case for post-Marxism as a credible methodology in South African criminology. By way of example, India, a country with a population of 1.36 billion, has a mere 160 000 sentenced offenders (representing a third of their total prison population), while South Africa, with a population of just short of 60 million has as many inmates (both sentenced and awaiting trial) at 162 000. By the same token, China, the most populous country in the world, published rates of recidivism of between 6-8% at the turn of the century, whilst South Africa has one of the highest rates of re-offending in the world, namely 86-94%. From a Marxist perspective, the argument that a different reality is possible, is demonstrated, but only a cross-cultural or comparative perspective would allow us to see this. Attention is also drawn to the phenomenon of the prison-industrial-complex and the insidious ways in which rationales other than crime could increase our prison population. In this context, the importance of appreciating structural anomalies (poverty, unemployment and deepening inequality amidst affluence) as powerful breeding grounds for crime, rather than simply relying on individual responsibility as the sole driver of crime, is noted and illustrated. One such anomaly is the harsh stigmatizing shaming culture to which returning ex-offenders are subjected. The most daunting of all the obstacles faced by ex-offenders, is the prospect of prolonged unemployment as a result of labelling, among other factors. This well-known labelling perspective in criminology is not conducive to the sustainable rehabilitation and resettlement of ex-offenders in South Africa and it is argued that both anomalous phenomena, such as the prison-industrial-complex and the unjustified stigmatisation of ex-offenders, are some of the more important drivers of our unsustainable rates of crime and recidivism in this country. An attempt is made to justify both cross-cultural or comparative criminology and post-Marxism as valuable perspectives in South African academic criminology. This is something which has historically been neglected in this country. As a point of departure, John Braithwaite's seminal distinction between stigmatising (South Africa, the US) and integrative shaming cultures (China, Japan) is explored in order to appreciate the Chinese view, which has been successfully applied there since the fifties, of recruiting and employing ex-offenders, who comply with the requirements, as prison personnel and wardens. On a continuum of shaming cultures, China would occupy one extreme (integration) while the United States (as a stigmatising shaming culture) would be placed at the other extreme. Since correctional services in the US, as the one extreme on the continuum of shaming cultures, have since 2018 also began embracing the integrative initiative of recruiting and employing ex-offenders as both prison personnel and wardens, it is now possible to speak of a truly international trend in this regard. The question which is addressed in this contribution is whether or not South Africa's corrective policy framework, as a country with a harsh stigmatising shaming culture and one of the highest rates of recidivism in the world, can benefit from this encouraging integrative international initiative. It is submitted that South Africa can benefit from this initiative in three ways. Firstly, removing a formidable hurdle in the resettlement of ex-offenders, by offering some ex-offenders employment. Secondly, considerable value will be added to DCS's manpower in terms of high-performance wardens, as the international experience has shown. Thirdly, addressing violence behind bars by roping in ex-offenders will assist with rehabilitation efforts behind prison walls. In view of the high levels of violence in our prisons, the hope is expressed that the international experience of high-performance delivery by ex-offenders employed as prison wardens, would translate not only into fruitful rehabilitation initiatives, but especially as a resourceful way of curbing violence behind bars.

Keywords : Personnel shortage; violence; comparative criminology; post-Marxism; stigmatising and integrative shaming cultures; Chinese experience; US perspective; employing ex-offenders as prison wardens.

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