Prisons Transformation

Community Education & Mobilisation

The work Sonke does both in and outside of prisons cuts across two of its units – Community Education and Mobilisation (CEM) and Policy Development and Advocacy (PDA). The CEM Unit’s objective is the implementation of the One Man Can (OMC) campaign in correctional service centres across the Western Cape. The PDA Unit aims to advocate for law and policy reform around sexual abuse, HIV prevention and access to treatment in prisons.

Since 2007, Sonke has implemented its One Man Can (OMC) Prisons Transformation Project in Department of Correctional Services (DCS) centers across the Western Cape, and has done so with the vital support of the Western Cape Department of Health (WCDoH).

The project has 5 overall objectives:

  • Establish new and strengthen existing partnerships with DCS; NDoH; HIV, AIDS, STIs and TB (HAST) Coordinators; and other key stakeholders.
  • Build the capacity of inmates and DCS officials as peer educators for HIV and AIDS prevention and to promote health-seeking behaviours amongst them.
  • Build the capacity of DCS officials to provide HIV and AIDS support and to address sexual abuse of inmates in DCS facilities, through master training and follow-up.
  • To contribute to the successful post-release integration of HIV-infected and affected prisoners.
  • To ensure the development and implementation of best policies with regard to HIV and AIDS and sexual violence in correctional centres.

Sonke has also rolled out its OMC campaign prisons work to former inmates, as 80% of inmates re-offend, and an estimated 360,000 inmates cycle in/out of prisons each year. This clearly links HIV inside prisons to HIV in our communities. Coupled with the stigma and discrimination that former inmates experience when returning to their communities, it is vital to have HIV prevention interventions that reach ex-inmates in addition to those still imprisoned. This work is achieved through the Beyond the Bars project.

This project is at its heart a peer education programme that works with inmate peer educators and prison officials to:

  • Reduce HIV, STIs and TB risk.
  • Improve access to vital HIV prevention services.
  • Promote and encourage an HIV testing culture within prisons.
  • Improve access to integrated treatment for HIV.
  • Support prisoners infected and affected by HIV and AIDS.
  • Educate prisoners and encourage medical male circumcision.
  • Help ensure that prisoners’ health rights are respected and promoted, so that they experience patient-centred quality and continuity of care, while in DCS custody.
  • Train DCS officials to address sexual abuse, as this is a leading cause of HIV in prisons.

Sonke supports its peer educators through continuous follow-up visits. These visits serve to provide guidance to peer educators and provide refresher trainings for them. They also provide a space to support HIV-infected and affected inmates. Additionally, Sonke facilitates internal problem solving in each centre. This serves to solve blockages to services – e.g. when an HIV-positive inmate struggles to access treatment.

Beyond the Bars

The new One Man Can (OMC) Beyond the Bars Community Action Team (CAT) helps former inmates return to life outside of prison. Through the outreach activities Sonke has been doing in prisons since 2007, we have understood the importance of continuing to work with the people with whom we had worked in prison after they are released. To support these men in continuing to practice and share OMC principles to help them reintegrate into the community and avoid re-offending, we set up this specialised CAT that also serves as a support group for the former inmates.

The group (11 former inmates) meets every other week, and is led by Sonke staff. Going forward, Sonke will also work with the former inmates to advocate for the rights of current inmates, ex-inmates and remand detainees. While reliable statistics are lacking, estimates of recidivism rates in South Africa range from 24-94%. Early signs are positive that the Beyond the Bars CAT is helping reduce this rate significantly among the former inmate participants.