The Sierra Leone Correctional Service (SLCS) in conjunction with the International Bureau of Narcotics and Law (INL), and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), has come up with a new system (Probation) that is aimed at transforming the mindset of both male and female inmates, across the country.
Thirty (30) graduate Corrections officers are currently undergoing training in Probation work, organised by Life by Design, a locally owned company aimed at transforming lives.
‘Probation’ is one of the attendant practices of transforming law offenders into peaceful citizens. It is an offender management and supervisory function with the goals of protecting society, reducing re- entries (recidivism) into correctional centres, and achieving successful reintegration into community.
Mr. Dennis Harman, who is the Director of Human Resources SLCS, said although this practice is in its embryonic stage here in Sierra Leone, it is not a newly hatched practice in some other Correctional Services the world over.
“The pilot phase of the work, which will last till January 2019, is underway and the said officers, who are executing the task of relating with inmates, do not put on uniforms, but mufti. The idea is such that inmates would not know that they are officers- most inmates are averse to the idea of disclosing information about themselves to officers.”
One of the Probation Officers Abubakarr Bangura, disclosed that each of them has been assigned a case load of five inmates, with whom they meet and build positive working relationship.
“We delve into productive interaction with inmates, in an effort to gather and evaluate offender backgrounds, offence history and current behaviour to assess the risk of re- offending and to determine the level and focus of intervention to address dynamic risk factors for purposes of court reports or case management approaches/decisions.”
Bangura re-iterated that officers engage offenders and relevant others (as necessary) in the change process, develop plans of action and facilitate prescribed programs that will increase compliance with court expectations and address criminal behaviour to reduce re- entries (recidivism) into Correctional Centres. He adding that the work aims at “providing an integrated service and working with individuals, victims, community agencies and organizations to enhance services; facilitating the reintegration of offenders from Correctional Centres into the community by way of planning with offenders, families, agencies, and supervising the reintegration conditions”.
Mr. Harman noted that Probation officers’ interaction with inmates is done with sensitivity, respect, and in a non- judgmental manner in order to develop and maintain co-operative relationships.
“For now, the scope of the Probation team’s work is limited to Freetown,” he furthered, “as time wears on, the practice will definitely be extended to other Correctional Centres around the country.”
This practice (Probation) was given life by an international non- governmental organization called ‘Penal Reform International’ (PRI). The organization was founded in London, 1989. Their work focuses on penal and criminal justice reform world wide. Since its establishment, PRI has worked at the United Nations to improve norms and standards to strengthen the protection of the rights of people in criminal justice systems. Between 2011 and 2015, it took part in the negotiations for the revision of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners- renamed the ‘Mandela Rules’- a key set of standards used in Prison administration.