3rd Southern African Students’ Psychology Conference


The following paper was presented at the 3rd Southern African Student’s Psychology Conference in June 2013 at the University of Witwatersrand:

“A day in the life of a South African offender”

Presenter: Mbongiseni Mdakane

Contact: bongimd@gmail.com



The incarceration of offenders has been relied upon as the dominant sentence all throughout the years to address the objectives of punishment and ultimately rehabilitate offenders. However, with recidivism estimated at around 70%-correctional centres, not only in South Africa but across the board are faced with the same challenge. To help remedy this situation, this project aims to create societal awareness around factors leading to recidivism and argues that purposeless incarceration has the intrinsic ability to desensitize habitual offenders which in turn leads to imprisonment losing its deterrent and rehabilitative value. The qualitative nature of this intervention allows for an in-depth interview of offenders and ex-offenders alike and analysis is done thematically. Furthermore an exploration of the broader contextual nature and the risk factors associated with the inclination to relapse are identified and isolated. It is illustrated that by disrupting these interactional patterns carries the potential to instigate change which in turn alters the composition of the system. For example, there are many offenders whose lives transcend the circumstances they have subjected themselves into, but because many support structures in prisons (whether psychological or educational) are either under-utilized or have depleted resources, it is not uncommon to expect a vicious cycle of reoffending. In concluding, it is suggested that offender rehabilitation and transformation are not ideal constructs that cannot be accomplished. Rather, comprehending the prisoners’ life-world and keeping a focus on their strengths and healthy behaviours should be the cornerstone of our intervention. This also requires the recognition that among those imprisoned there is an immense wealth of talent and potential abilities that should not go to waste.

Keywords: incarceration, rehabilitation, recidivism, correctional centre