27 February 2015


A recent Cape Times interview with Tracy Van der Westhuizen, an inmate serving time at Pollsmoor Prison for fraud, highlights the efforts by this female inmate to change her life around. Although she still has some time to go before potential release on parole, she is taking tangible steps towards rehabilitation. Her full rehabilitation can of course only be tested once she is free and facing the temptations that life in open society will bring. But she is well on the road to recovery and regaining her dignity.


South Africa has 242 prisons housing some 160,000 inmates, with an admission rate of approximately 25,000 and a monthly average of 23,000 releases. As Van der Westhuizen highlights, many of those admitted to prison have committed crime before, making support services during and post incarceration crucial.


Re-offending and recidivism are vexed questions – there is no direct research or analysis that gives us a plausible rate of recidivism in South Africa. Anecdotally it is said to be extremely high – with references to as high as 70%. What we do know is that many former prison inmates return to prison as a result of further convictions. NICRO’s experience with reintegration work demonstrates that often imprisonment acts as a ‘revolving door’ or as ‘universities of crime’ and that, notwithstanding the efforts of the Correctional authorities, not all inmates are rehabilitated.


It is for this reason that Tracy’s story is inspiring. Her story indicates that rehabilitation is a multi layered journey – inmates require psychological transformation – focusing on their emotional and cognitive functioning, as well as education and skills training. A different way of thinking, and an opportunity to work, is part of the ‘rehabilitation recipe’.


Tracy’s story also indicates another crucial factor in rehabilitation – and that is the support and love of family…. the confidence and love of her husband and children, and the amazing insight of her young daughter, provides her with the inspiration and incentive to do the difficult work of rehabilitation.


Prison is not an easy life – “it is not for sissies” –one has to develop strong coping skills to survive prison! Ironically these coping skills are the ones that will help you make it in open society.

National non-profit organisation, NICRO, is working successfully with incarcerated and released offenders to change behaviour and reduce the likelihood of recidivism.


NICRO has no doubt that perpetrators can change, and we are working hard to support inmates and released offenders to successfully reintegrate into society and turn away from crime.”


Chief Executive Director Soraya Solomon says “NICRO provides a range of tried and tested behavior change programmes and is facilitating successful social reintegration, which includes working with the offender’s family members. NICRO believes these services are crucial to achieving the goal of turning lives around and reducing recidivism.”


Society can assist in prisoner rehabilitation by supporting the efforts of former inmates to earn a living and become functioning members of their communities. 



NICRO is a national non-profit organisation which regards crime as a threat to democracy and individual rights. It provides a range of person-centred development and services to victims, offenders, and communities, which aim to strengthen a human rights culture and build a safer South Africa.


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