Social Work & Security In The Prison Context


Social Work & Security In The Prison Context

The role of the security officer and the social worker need to be revisited and redefined. Social Welfare in South Africa should be the custodian of the incarceration system. Security is there to create an environment which is conducive to the role of the social worker. I am currently working on a module which is based entirely on the norms of a normal functioning society, but implemented into the prison system.

The system will enable government to alleviate the load the tax payer must carry. It will offer social, economic and political solutions to a problem never solved. Crime has evolved into a way of life for many. Children are being born into it and I believe that the social worker is the correct department to govern over this system. Here there will be incredible opposition to my views, I am sure, but having taken advantage of and then standing against the abuse of the system, from within the system, I believe I’d run a prison into a significant decrease in recidivism with my system over a period of  between 8 to 15 years following implementation.

South Africa needs more qualified social workers. Socials workers need broader decision-making powers when it comes to the functioning of the prison on the ground. Security needs to enable that role. These are the two roles. Clearly defined and to my mind … obvious.

The Role of the Social Worker

I am repeating myself here, but the social worker or the Department of Social Welfare should be the custodian and overseer of every prison in South Africa. The role of security is to ensure that the system is conducive to the role of the social worker who in turn ensures that the environment in which prisoners are imprisoned for lengthy periods of time, is conducive to the change (rehabilitation) which is required to effectively return inmates to the social norm as contributors.

The current set up doesn’t make sense.

  • Currently the system says: “You must attend these programmes before you will be released on parole. So, what does the prisoner do, he DOES THE PROGRAMMES. This requires him to attend these courses for perhaps 2 or 3 hours a day if not a week, over a period of weeks or months. When he is done with that chore he returns to the population, organises his joint for the day or smuggles his extra meat (because he can) and prison life goes on.
  • He gets a certificate for each course or programme which he shows the parole board and they say, “very well, you have showed that you have applied yourself to the system”, and he gets a date (if he has served the minimum requirement) for release.
  • It is really a little more complicated than that, but this is an example which can be applied across a broad spectrum of aspects which keeps the incarceration system from realising its full potential.
  • There is no way a prisoner can ATTEND these programmes, he has to LIVE them. When returning to the population from a lesson in social theory he needs to go back to an environment which enables him to practice that theory. Simply put, you can’t do it any other way. South Africa needs to come to terms with that. South Africans need to put our emotions aside when dealing with the crime issue as a whole and realise that by demanding a system which differs to the norms of society we are actually increasing the ill.
  • You cannot force change to occur. It comes about through a process. If you try and force it, prisoners will tell you what you want to hear, not what they truly feel or believe. Someone has to lead the way to change and the only department equipped enough to deal with that change in the actual functioning of the system is the SOCIAL WORKER.

You will find that at most prisons a single social worker is allocated an office and in some, if not most instances, has a ‘prisoner attendance register’ in excess of 1000. He or She is expected to perform miracles from that office without having much impact or say when it comes to the functioning of the system on the ground – the daily routines and the lives which prisoners lead.

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