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Lifelong skills learnt behind prison walls

EQUIPPED—Dawati works on a chair

DAWATI—I can work on my own

In 2018, Steve Fredson from Dedza was convicted of burglary and sentenced to six years imprisonment with hard labour.

He was moved to Zomba Prison where he is serving his sentence.

Fredson believes failure to have any reliable source of income pushed him into the criminal activity that he now profoundly regrets.

“It all seemed fine until I was caught,” he says instinctively.

His term in the correctional facility expires in 2024, and Fredson hopes by that time, he will be fully refined to face the world without engaging in criminal activities.

He is one of the inmates at Zomba Prison who, for six months, got trained in tailoring and are able to stitch uniforms for warders and fellow prisoners within the high walls of the facility built in 1935.

“I regret my actions. But with these skills, I will be able to work for my own livelihood and assist my family once I finish serving my sentence,” Fredson says.

Another prisoner at the facility, Stoneck Dawati, who was convicted of burglary and sentenced to four years imprisonment two years ago, believes inmates can become productive citizens after their terms expire if they acquire technical skills while serving their sentences.

“I am happy that I have learnt carpentry and joinery. I will have something to do once I am out there,” Dawati says.

The skills the inmates are acquiring are courtesy of a programme that Malawi Prison Service (MPS) in partnership with DVV International and Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa) is implementing at Zomba Prison.

Chreaa Executive Director Victor Mhango says the main objective of the initiative is to reduce the tendency of convicts reoffending.

Mhango says many former prisoners used to recommit crimes due to poverty which had initially pushed them into criminal activities.

“So once they get the skills and are able to engage in some income generating activities, they will stay away from crime,” he says.

Mhango adds that the initiative also helps to decongest prisons as skilled former inmates are likely not to return to the penal institutions.

DVV International Communications Officer Dyson Mthawanji says the programme, rolled out in November 2020, is an essential prerequisite for successful rehabilitation and social reintegration of offenders.

“A former prisoner who has no tangible means of income will likely commit another crime, especially if they were convicted of a crime involving stealing or something near that,” Mthawanji states.

The inmates who have already benefitted from the programme funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development, at Zomba Prison, want others across the country to benefit too.

Assistant Commissioner of Prisons Harrings Nyalubwe agrees with the inmates, saying the burden on MPS in terms of space and food can be lessened if former prisoners do not reoffend.

“It is a sad thing when former prisoners commit crimes again and return to the correctional facilities. That is why we need such programmes so that the skills the prisoners acquire help them become better citizens after they return home,” Nyalubwe says.

There are approximately 13,100 inmates in Malawi’s 23 prisons.

Of these, only 1,620 are enrolled in education programmes representing 12.4 percent, in sharp contrast with Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 4 which calls inclusivity in education with the aim of leaving no one behind.

“It is imperative to reduce barriers to skills development and technical and vocational education and training, starting from the secondary level, as well as to tertiary education, including university, and to provide lifelong learning opportunities for youth and adults,” target 3 of the goal says.

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