Cape Town, South Africa – South Africa’s prisons are notorious for high rates of HIV, overcrowding, abuse, sexual violence and gangs. About 30 percent of the 150,000 inmates currently in custody are awaiting trial, according to South Africa’s Department of Correctional Services. About 360,000 move in and out of prisons, with 80 percent of them coming back to prison after being released. For most former prisoners, life outside of prison is dotted with difficulties.
“You are part of a cycle of violence, it is difficult to reintegrate, to be respected in society,” says Jerry, who was recently released after serving 12 years in prison for a sexual offence and asked that only his first name be used.
They battle social stigma that hinders their reintegration, along with joblessness and poverty, rejection by family members and a lack of rehabilitation projects.
Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke) runs its Beyond the Bars project with former prisoners. “We provide former inmates with a support group, help connect them to job training and work with them to develop positive ideas around masculinity and non-violence,” says Czerina Patel of Sonke.
The organisation collaborates with the Prison Care and Support Network, who provides direct services such as bursaries, job training and placement and food parcels for ex-inmates with families to feed.
“There’s a lot of pressure from society and their family when they are released from prison,” says Mzamo Sidelo, who is a trainer for Beyond the Bars.
“They’re expected to provide for their families and when they can’t find work, they will often re-offend.”
Sidelo says that the support group helps ex-inmates deal with this pressure, connects them with opportunities and training that helps them re-renter the workplace, and even helps them identify other ways they can provide for their families, like helping with the house-work.