TURNING POINT: Preparing for a Second Chance

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NAAWAN, Misamis Oriental (MindaNews/06 September) – The spirit and basic intention of RA 10592 or the Good Conduct Time Allowance law is to give a convicted felon another chance in life, that is, to re-join society as a reformed person – a new being that no longer poses as a liability or a threat to the security and peace of the community.

It is not easy to determine that a person has positively changed. The GCTA presupposes that a convict has changed or reformed if he has shown good behavior while serving his term. He observes and obeys prison rules and regulations; does not commit any crime while in detention; is loyal to the correctional institution, that is, has shown commitment  to bear his sentence and has not tried to escape despite tempting opportunities.

The indicators are easy to monitor and to determine but are not substantial and deep enough to assure us that a convict who is compliant and submissive has changed enough to deserve  reintegration with society.

Compliant behavior avoids punishment and earns rewards in sentence reduction. While outwardly desirable, it does not, however, prepare the convict to re-join society. More emphasis and attention should be given to reforming prisoners along inner rewarding and satisfying activities than in mere Pavlovian-like reward-punishment approach in developing desired bahavior.

Greater efforts should be invested in the area of capacity building. Prisoners should be given opportunities to train, where their aptitude and interest incline, to acquire new skills, say, in simple bookkeeping and accounting, auto-mechanics, appliance repair, brick-making, carpentry and masonry; in developing new hobbies or in bringing out creative talents, say, in drawing, painting, pottery making, narrative writing, dramatics, dance, etc.

Inmates should be  encouraged to join fellowship in religious groups. This leads to contemplation, introspection, and deeper understanding  of life and the virtues of humility and forgiveness.

Also, participation in mass activities allows socialization and is a great help in overcoming stress and loneliness in confinement. The dancing “happy  inmates” of Cebu is a good model in socialization and reconnecting inmates to the outside world. Prison authorities should give this a good look in developing reform programs for persons deprived of liberty.

Not only are these endeavors enabling and rewarding, they may yet develop in convicts positive attitude, self-worth and greater self- confidence, inner traits that are vital in re-joining society.

If indeed correctional institutions are to correct and reform wayward beings, then the right atmosphere should be developed in that direction. The government need to invest on true reformatory measures  not simply  in delving in the how and when to release inmates to the outside.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. William R. Adan, Ph.D., is retired professor and former chancellor of Mindanao State University at Naawan, Misamis Oriental, Philippines)

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