MORE can be done to improve the rehabilitation of female inmates and ensure they lead crime-free lives upon their release, Superintendent Marethabile Tale of the Lesotho Correctional Services (LCS) said this week.
Supt Tale told the Lesotho Times in an interview that in most cases, women committed crimes such as theft due to social and economic pressures.
These pressures, she explained, could be reduced by providing enough support which targets poverty and helplessness.
According to Supt Tale, the Maseru correctional facility is holding women who include those who stole clothes for their children, maize meal to prepare porridge for their hungry children while others aborted their pregnancies because they could not afford looking after the babies.
Supt Tale said while awareness on sexual and reproduction health was key for effective birth control and HIV- prevention, women still struggle when it comes to having the means to look after their families, which sometimes push them into crime.
“It is important to discuss the issues and challenges that the female inmates raise and develop programmes targeting such factors and conditions.
“For example, through our counselling programmes, we have come to understand that women who are not empowered both financially and in terms of knowledge, are not in a position to negotiate safe sex, and neither can they decide the number of children they would like to have and the spacing of those children.
“As the country’s Correctional Service, we feel we have an important role to play to ensure effective rehabilitation that is followed up with poverty -alleviation programmes that can empower them and help them to stay off crime,” Supt Tale said.
A total of 58 inmates, among them seven girls, are currently under the care of the correctional service facility in Maseru, which is probably one of the oldest and most dilapidated buildings in town. Supt Tale said the place accommodates vulnerable women in need of different forms of support.
“Targeting with empowerment programmes is not a challenge because the women and children are here. We are looking for all the assistance we can get to help change their lives. Many of them are young and through support, they could be citizens who can contribute to the development of the country,” Supt Tale said.
The Maseru Female Correctional Service runs a number of projects, but most of them are not doing well due to lack of financial and human resources.
The facility’s poultry project, for example, could produce enough eggs for the inmates and for sale but this is not the case. Earlier this year, the project ordered 600 chicks from a local supplier who could however, only supply 100.
In addition to the eggs produced by 57 indigenous chickens, the 100 are now laying eggs that are being consumed by the inmates.
“We need assistance in purchasing a hatchery so that we can produce our own chicks for rearing and to sell throughout Lesotho,” one of the inmates told the Lesotho Times.
Apart from the poultry project, there is a tiny salon established to equip interested inmates develop hairdressing skills. However, lack of space, adequate equipment and trainers is affecting the programme.
The correctional facility also needs assistance to boost its garment-making programme, which has shown immense potential to empower the women so they could start their own projects upon release.
“We do have staff with skills to make garments and they have been supporting the inmates.
“With the support of sewing machines, and part-time trainers with advanced skills, I feel there is a lot more we can do to get more value from this programme. It would also be great if we can get the owners of textile companies to give business talks to help encourage the women not to give up on themselves and their families,” Supt Tale further said.
Fifteen of the women have sewn some garments through their training, and hope to make other products they could also sell. The women can also provide wedding and party decoration services, charging between M2000 and M4000 for wedding decorations depending on the size of the décor.
Until 2016, the correctional service was offering training in making handicrafts through the support of one trainer who has since left, leading to the collapse of once promising projects.
Supt Tale said there was need to create a conducive learning environment for various capacity building programmes and provide trainers who can run both short and long-term capacity building programmes.
“The programmes we would like to introduce and strengthen are those that can help the women to start their own projects when they return home after serving their sentences. These projects include garment-making, catering, wedding décor, gardening and poultry production, among others,” Supt Tale said.
She noted the full potential of these capacity building programmes could only be realised if there is readily available capital and equipment to help the women start their businesses.
Also see story on Page 18.