THE Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS) remains an important piece in the law-enforcement puzzle through its mandate to rehabilitate convicted criminals. The Lesotho Times (LT) spoke to the organisation’s Acting Commissioner, Thabang Mothepu (TM), who emphasised the importance of this mandate to both the inmates and the nation at large.
LT: You were appointed Acting Commissioner in August 2017 at a time the institution was receiving some high-profile inmates. How have you managed to deal with such a situation?
TM: A lot has been happening since my appointment in terms of the high- profile inmates that are now in our custody. As the LCS, it is important for us to make sure we do not lose focus of the services we are expected to deliver and to do so professionally and effectively. Yes, we are handling some inmates who have attracted global attention, but remember we also have other inmates under our care. I think the most important thing for us is to continue delivering our services professionally without neglecting some of our duties because of the hype around some inmates in our custody.
LT: There is concern over the quality of security at the Maseru Maximum facility where some of these suspects in high-profile cases are accommodated. What measures have you taken to ensure there are no surprises in the form of escape, for instance?
TM: Security is critical for the LCS, especially when it comes to maximum security facilities, where security remains tight. Over the years, we have been introducing various mechanisms to continue strengthening our security and we continue doing so. What we experienced late last year with regards to security, was the fabrication of an issue by some mischievous elements who wanted to create a storm out of nothing and peddle falsehoods. I think it’s important to also understand that we have a situation that seems to indicate that there are certain individuals who want to take control of the LCS, and at times, working with some unprofessional elements within our organisation who are the agents of fake information. I wonder what their objective is. But I can say our systems are strong; we are a professional entity that is part of the Government of Lesotho. One of our mechanisms for strengthening security is having the best people in strategic positions to ensure efficiency in the manner we execute our duties. I have a clear understanding that when it comes to issues that have to do with security management and command, we need to have competent professionals who understand the vision of the LCS, appreciate our context and how to handle matters related to the institution. At the moment, we have no complex situations, which we feel we are unable to handle with regards to the security of inmates connected to high-profile cases and also other inmates.
LT: You were speaking earlier on about the importance of rejuvenating the services that the LCS provides. Could you tell us more about that and why it is important?
TM: I have worked for the LCS for many years and being in the system that long, I have assessed our services, in addition to having the opportunity to learn from other countries’ correctional service institutions. When I was appointed Acting Commissioner last year, I had some ideas many of them based on various researches I have done over the years and my experience. Importantly, my work will focus on rallying everyone around the table to work towards improving our operations. I can say this institution is resilient because it has managed to run efficiently amid some serious changes in the external environment. However, we cannot take that for granted because all systems require rejuvenation or servicing, to continue working effectively. If you look at our operations programme, we have two intertwined focuses that emanate largely from security and rehabilitation. These are the prime areas for our operations because in our objectives, we aim to rehabilitate and secure inmates. It is also important to understand that dealing with inmates entails caring how our actions affect them because they are human beings who also deserve humane treatment and to be in safe custody. Since my appointment, I have started introducing measures that seek to improve the welfare of our inmates. To achieve this, strengthening the capacity of our staff is crucial to remind them of what is expected of them, and to expose them to new ways of executing their duties so that we can make a positive impact on the lives of the inmates. Remember, we work knowing that one day the majority of our inmates will be released, and this makes their re-integration into their communities and ensuring they can be productive citizens, very important.
LT: The need to professionalise staff at the LCS is key within the leadership of the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Service. Could you tell us why this should be a starting point for the LCS?
TM: Because if we are to realise our vision, then we need to be speaking the same language. We should be on the same wave-length in terms of our capacity to execute our duties. We all need to understand why we are coming to work everyday. Remember, most of us, we did not know each other before the LCS. We came to know each other because our work brought us together. It is that work we should do and execute professionally. What we are focusing on is how to improve our skills through a myriad of methods, including workshops, exchange programmes, regional and international trainings, on-the-job coaching and others. We do not want to be an old-looking LCS. Technology is here, and we want to move with the times, so we are also looking at specialised skills, technology and innovations that can help us continue improving our operations. A rejuvenated LCS we are creating needs a workforce that professionally executes operations in a manner that would enable us to completely conform to international instruments governing correctional services the world over. If we look at the standard minimum rules for the treatment of inmates, the United Nations Declarations on issues of torture and the minimum rules which conform to the Mandela rules, these guide how correctional service operations should be executed. On the other hand, the need for a professional workforce becomes even more imperative because of our constitution, which we should conform to, in addition to the Bill of Rights, which promotes the fair treatment of the inmates. The need to be professional, I would say, is the tune we are singing and we expect all LCS staff to dance to that tune.
LT: What empowerment initiatives have you started to demonstrate that the issue of human rights and respecting them is a reality within the LCS?
TM: There are a number of initiatives we have started and others in discussion. Some of these are our plans to rollout reproductive health services for women, adolescent girls and children, our recreational art programme and agriculture development programme. Over the years, our health services excluded reproductive health issues targeting women and girls mainly because we tend to have more male inmates who also stay longer in our facilities than women. We are working with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to soon introduce reproductive health services in our health package. As a result, health-wise, we are building up the standards and would also want to partner with various stakeholders dealing with health issues that mostly affect inmates. Issues of HIV prevention and Anti-Retroviral Treatment, Tuberculosis and child-nutrition are quite central in our health services and partnerships are welcome to help improve the wellbeing of our inmates and staff.
Apart from health, we have also realised that issues of recreational arts have been overlooked, perhaps it was because of the vision we had in the past. We have assessed our inmates and realised there are some who are talented in areas including sport, music and art. Through these talents, we can help them earn a living because it is not only formal employment that people can survive on. One of the highly paid people in the world are in the sports and music sectors. We have realised that as much as formal education is important, it does not work for some people who may also happen to be gifted in other areas, such as sport. Therefore, this month, we will be starting a special arts programme in music and sports for the juvenile inmates. This is a special programme for us because as the LCS we have the best football club, Masheshena, in addition to representation in netball, taekwondo, rugby and athletics. This means we have a hub of skills in our institution, which we were not fully utilising to help improve the lives of the inmates. We would like these young people to realise their potential and support their growth. We will soon engage the Lesotho Football Association (LeFA) and associations for other disciplines to discuss our recreation development programme. We would like our inmates to receive accreditation because it’s one of the things that can create employment for those deprived an opportunity to demonstrate their talents. Although we are targeting inmates under the age of 18, we hope in three years, the programme would also include inmates below the age of 25.
We are also looking at introducing an agriculture development programme through which we will provide training in food-production to inmates. This would encourage them to start food production-related projects that can help reduce hunger. Hunger plays a big role in pushing some people to commit crime. We do have our staff with agriculture expertise and they will train the inmates on the various farming methods and commercial crops they can grow. We have since asked for farming inputs and will negotiate with some landowners in areas we do not have land to enable the implementation of various projects, including livestock farming.
The plan we are currently working on aims to ensure the skills nurtured are utilised after the release of the inmates. That is in the areas of recreational arts and agriculture development. With regards to recreational arts, the trained inmates will be linked to associations such as LeFA for football players for continuity. The idea is to train them until they reach a stage where they can be subjected to an evaluation and if they are successful, they can then qualify to play in the various divisions, based on the level of skill. We would like the associations to help in this process and will soon meet with them to discuss our plan. I think if we can identify talent through this programme, the country can immensely benefit. In the area of agriculture, we have already started looking for partners and would like to work with organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), government departments, community-based organisations and other development partners passionate about food security to support the trained inmates after their release.
LT: Infrastructure development is one area that is a concern at places such as the Women Correctional facility in Maseru. Are there any programmes targeting this area to ensure facilities are also in line with international standards?
TM: A few years ago, the Commission report pronounced its findings on the Lesotho Correctional Service facilities. The report recommended that some of the correctional facilities should be closed down, while others should be renovated. We have started implementing the recommendations and currently, the Maseru Central correctional facility is under renovation while refurbishment at the Leribe correctional is almost complete. The main Mafeteng correctional facility was declared to be beyond renovation and was therefore closed-down last year while the Mafeteng Open Camp is still operating although renovations are also underway, together with the Mohale’s Hoek facility. We expect renovations at the Mafeteng Open Camp to be completed by the end of this year. We have also started constructing a new maximum-type correctional facility in Mafeteng to support the maximum facilities in Maseru and Mohale’s Hoek. Another area of development, which is in the long-term, is the construction of new correctional facilities in districts including Thaba- Tseka, Quthing and Mokhotlong.