August 20th 2011
Many inmates in women’s prisons are emotionally abused women. An emotionally abused woman should be rehabilitated, her partner should be punished. A South African prison unit specially designed for babies has opened at Pollsmoor Prison outside Cape Town. The Pollsmoor Prison Mother and Child Unit was opened yesterday by South African Correctional Services Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa- Nqakula.
A mother who is in prison for serial shoplifting to suport her drug addiction, gave birth to her daughter in Pollsmoor Prison. Her daughter’s first two months was spent living in a small cold cell with another three mothers and their babies, and with little access to fresh air and sunlight. Now she is sitting in one of the freshly painted rooms, with toys and a cot, holding her two month-old baby. Now she can play in sand, on grass and in the sun.
Room in new Pollsmoor Baby Unit
Prisons serve three purposes:
The Mother and Child Unit is a step in the right direction for the last category. This mother experiences her incarceration as an effective rehabilitation unit. South African prison warders are strict. Drug use caused her to commit her crimes. The Mother and Child Unit is motivating her to change.
She had been treated at a rehabilitation centre to get rid of her addiction before, but drugs were easily smuggled into the centre so the rehabilitation program did not help her. Prison on the other hand did. She has vowed to go straight once she is released in four months’ time.
She said, “In here the warders are strict, you’re not even allowed to smoke. There is no way anything can come through here. Now that I’ve been in prison for a longer time, I have been able to think about what I did. This is rehab. If I don’t help myself when I get out, nothing is going to change. I’ve had a lot of time to think in here. I want to find work and look after my children and face the drugs because it will be everywhere I go, I can’t hide from it but I have to stop.”
A person with that attitude can and should be helped, not punished.
The drug she had been addicted to was crystal methamphetamine, locally known as tik. Crystal meth is popular with people who lack self-confidence and are insecure, as it gives users a sense of confidence and euphoria. Women suffering verbal emotional abuse and physical abuse feel insecure and have low self-confidence. They need support to get out of a relationship situation in which they feel helpless and trapped.
Mapisa-Nqakula named the home Nonstikilelo (meaning Blessing in Xhosa). She said she was impressed by the facilities and thanked the staff and inmates at Pollsmoor who worked on the building. Male prisoners from Pollsmoor renovated the house and made the furniture.
She said: “I am very happy, each baby will have a cot and they have space. It’s not perfect but it’s the beginning of their second chance. The mothers have wronged society and given birth to their children here, the children should not take the responsibility or be punished, so this is in their best interest, not to make prisons more comfortable. It is not a nice guesthouse.
“The prison system remained unprepared for the rehabilitation needs of women. We don't want a child's early memory of her mother to be that of a person in chains. There is no need to punish a child because the mother made a mistake.”
The unit is situated over half a mile from the prison complex itself, but next door to a clinic and crèche. It is a simple but cheerfully decorated house with several bedrooms, bathrooms and a kitchen. The spacious crèche is colourful, fully equipped with toys, books, educational charts, a playroom, a workroom and a room filled with decorated cots.
The South African Correctional Services Department will launch similar units in other prisons starting in Durban’s Westville Prison next week. This program will be followed by mother-and-baby units at Zonderwater prison in Gauteng Province and the East London Prison in the Eastern Cape Province. During last year there were 143 children under the age of two living in South African prisons.
The children are only allowed to stay with their mothers until they are two years old and are then put in the care of a family member. The prisoners who have a longer sentence have to decide on foster families as soon as their children are born. The foster mother would then visit the mother regularly for the first two years to form a bond with the child.
South African Correctional Services, under the leadership of the Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa- Nqakula, is leading the way to break the vicious cycle of poverty and crime, caused being raised in a home with emotional, verbal and physical abuse. Giving the children opportunities their parents did not have is an investment in a better society in the future.
South African jails start mother-and-baby units to give children born to prisoners a good start tin life. New jail system motivates prisoners to reform.