ALE in Prisons Programme Launches in Malawi

Twenty-seven-year-old John (not his real name) is serving a prison sentence at Zomba Central Prison for the second time. He attributes his second jail term to a lack of source of income when he was earlier released from prison.

Prison acting troupe performing during the launch of the ALE in Prisons Programme

Twenty-seven-year-old John (not his real name) is serving a prison sentence at Zomba Central Prison for the second time. He attributes his second jail term to a lack of source of income when he was earlier released from prison.

“I was jailed for one year. When I was released from prison I went straight home. Unfortunately, I had no money to start life afresh. As if that was not enough, I had no skill which I could use to earn money. As a result, I was tempted to engage in stealing again. I was arrested and thrown back in prison. Some of my fellow former inmates who had some vocational skills went back into the community as transformed citizens as they immediately engaged in various income generating activities using their skills,” he said.

However, now John has every reason to smile as he is likely to prepare well for his post-prison life. His smiles are ignited following the launch of the Adult Learning and Education (ALE) in Prisons programme by DVV International.

The new programme comes at a time when only 13 percent of inmates are able to access ALE in Malawi’s prisons, a development which Malawi Prisons Service (MPS) Commissioner for Administration Dezio Makumba describes as undesirable.

Makumba says: “All prisons together are currently housig an average of 9000 convicted inmates. Out of this figure only 13 percent are at least involved in some skill development work owing to inadequate financial resources, poor infrastructure and the absence of a revolving fund account to sustain the programmes.”

DVV International’s new programme is geared to provide carpentry, barbering and tailoring skills to inmates so that when they are released from prison, they can engage in various income generating activities to improve their lives and communities.

Makumba welcomes the new programme with smiles as it complements well the prisons’ efforts towards inmate rehabilitation.

“This is a good programme as it will support our efforts for rehabilitation. Malawi Prisons Service does not have enough materials to support the population of inmates. Therefore, the new programme by DVV International has come at the right time,” he says.

DVV International is implementing this milestone programme in collaboration with the Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) and MPS.

The programme areas will include, but are not limited to lobbying and advocacy for increased access to and quality of ALE programmes in prisons, including vocational education and skills training.

Both Makumba and Zomba Central Prison Officer in Charge, Thom Mtute, say the contribution from DVV International and CHREAA will go a long way in improving the current situation in prisons.

“The department continues to register increases in the re-offending rate due to ineffective rehabilitation services. Research has shown that rehabilitation and reformation is the most effective strategy at addressing re-offending,” says Makumba.

Before the launch of the programme, DVV International spent close to K45 Million in the course of developing the ALE programme for Zomba Central Prison. The expenditure included purchase of renovation materials for the learning spaces at Zomba Central Prison; training equipment for carpentry, barbering, and tailoring.

The programme which was officially launched on 13th November, 2020 at Zomba Central Prison premises is being funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

DVV International and CHREAA are rolling out this pilot ALE programme for prisoners which the two organisations have been developing for the past two years. The two organisations have been developing the programme considering the minimal access to education for people in detention centres and prisons in Malawi.

CHREAA Executive Director, Victor Mhango, urges the inmates to take the lessons seriously, adding that the skills they will acquire are centred on creating business opportunities for community integration.

“When released from jail, either through completion of sentences or pardon, may the inmates invest in these skills for the country to have productive citizens that contribute to socioeconomic development,” he says.

CHREAA, which was established in 2000, envisions a Malawian society that upholds human rights, justice and the rule of law. Its mission is to promote and protect human rights by assisting vulnerable and marginalized people in Malawi.

DVV International Regional Director for Southern Africa, David Harrington, says education is a key to provision and access of basic needs for the inmates. “We fight poverty through education and also support development. Education is key for opportunities. Education opens doors for success in life. If you don’t have education you can achieve little,” said Harrington.

Education is a human right, and this is also valid for people in prison. In most of the countries in which DVV International operates, the right to education is now also guaranteed for the incarcerated. However, although it looks good on paper, the reality on the ground is different. Worldwide, the incarcerated still struggle for access to education. This is despite the fact that education is an essential prerequisite for successful rehabilitation and social reintegration and offers a real prospect of a future without crime to the incarcerated.

“To improve the educational opportunities, especially for disadvantaged groups, is a central concern of the work of DVV International. And the incarcerated in Malawi belong to the most disadvantaged groups. The need for education in prisons is therefore enormous.,” said Harrington.

The Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) number 4 of the United Nations’ SDG 2030 agenda aims to ensure quality and inclusive education for all and promote lifelong learning. One of the SDG 4’s targets is that by 2030, the nations should substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi is also clear on everyone’s right to education. This fundamental right includes inmates in all prisons across the country, who also need education to improve their lives.

Section 25 (1) of The Constitution of the Republic of Malawi emphasises that all persons are entitled to education. Furthermore, Section 6(a) says, the government will provide adequate resources to the education sector and devise programmes in order to eliminate illiteracy in Malawi’. However, the government alone cannot meet the education demands for everyone, hence the coming in of various stakeholders including DVV International and CHREAA.

Harrington acknowledged that skills acquisition alone may not solve all of the inmates’ problems, but it can help them to improve their livelihoods by providing them with better opportunities.  

Since it opened its doors in Malawi in December 2017, DVV International has worked towards promoting ALE at micro, meso and macro levels. “We believe that stakeholders at all three levels are essential in promoting adult learning and education in Malawi. At the macro level, we are working for improved policy so that there is a better working platform for stakeholders in the ALE sector,” said Harrington, adding: “as the leading professional organization in the field of adult education and development cooperation, we [DVV International] have committed ourself to supporting lifelong learning in Malawi. We are providing nationwide support for the establishment and development of sustainable structures for youth and adult education. Prison is one of our target areas.”

At macro level, DVV International and its partners have supported the development of the National Adult Literacy and Education Policy which government approved in February this year. According to Harrington, the policy will help the stakeholders to improve ALE operations in Malawi.

Development experts are unanimous that prison education is a cost-effective way to reduce crime and will lead to long-term benefits for Malawi. Apart from reducing recidivism, education in prison can improve outcomes from one generation to the next.  Prisons with adult learning and education programs can likely have less violence among incarcerated individuals, which creates a safer environment for both incarcerated individuals and prison staff. The significant personal benefits of prison education include increased personal income, lower unemployment, greater political engagement and volunteerism, and improved health outcomes.

As was the case with John, many formerly incarcerated individuals with low levels of education often find themselves without financial resources or social support systems upon their release from prison and are therefore vulnerable and more likely to re-engage in crime rather than becoming reintegrated into society. It is hoped that the ALE in Prisons programme will contribute to improving life outside prison for people like John. 

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