Rehabilitating Drug Dependent Prisoners

A prisoner costs the taxpayer nearly Rs 300 per day. This amount multiplied by about 10,000, among whom there are a considerable percentage of petty drug offenders, is quite a toll on the national budget. A large majority of the country’s prisoners, still in their most productive age and able to contribute to the economy, languishes behind bars. The pilot project of voluntary rehabilitation spearheaded by the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms is one of the most progressive steps taken as a means of productively utilizing this manpower which stagnates in jail. Drug dependants who are charged for minor drug offences are directed to voluntary rehabilitation, equipping them to return to the mainstream of society as productive citizens.

A homegrown model

"The Pilot Project which is to commence shortly in Kandekadu in Welikanda in the Polonnaruwa District is an ambitious scheme which will not only address the issue of prison congestion, but it will also mutually benefit the offender who will be equipped with life skills through the rehabilitation process and the development process of the country alike, where the manpower will be productively used. It will also mitigate the risk of these petty offenders returning to society as hardcore criminals," Major General Jagath Wijetilleke, Commissioner General of Rehabilitation, (Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation) told Sunday Island. As he further explained, 250 such drug offenders from the Western, Southern and the North Central Provinces have voluntarily joined the pilot project which is a positive sign. "Having followed the legal process and upon a motion issued by the courts, these offenders are seeking rehabilitation on a voluntary basis which reflects their desire to be integrated into the mainstream of society," asserted Wijetilleke. They would be housed at the Kandekadu Treatment and Rehabilitation Centre, he added.

The Treatment and Rehabilitation Treatment Centre which is inspired by similar centers in countries such as Columbia and Malaysia will nevertheless be a homegrown one as Wijetilleke emphasizes. "We will be studying the systems of these overseas facilities in order to develop the best system for us." Apart from the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, a large number of stakeholders including the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Social Services, National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, the TID and the School of Psychiatrists have partnered to make the Pilot project a sustainable one.

Social integration

At the end of a prison term, minor drug offenders including drug peddlers, have a tendency to return to their previous vocations, a trend which will largely be mitigated by the rehabilitation process. According to the statistics, those imprisoned for drug addiction stands at over 10,000, and of these over 6,400 (64%) are repeat offenders. "The first group of such offenders who are seeking rehabilitation demonstrate a positive mindset, expecting external aid to put them right. There is a responsibility on our part to ensure that the benefits of the process are extended to the family unit as well," observed Wijetilleke stressing the importance of empowering both parties.

Utilizing manpower

The first group of rehabilitants of the Kandekadu pilot project will comprise 250 exclusively male prisoners with this number growing to about 1,000 by the end of the year. Wijetilleke expects. Medical specialists will be brought in to profile and categorize them, depending on their degree of involvement with drugs. A lengthy process which calls for sensitivity and empathy, this rehabilitation mechanism will be designed incorporating psycho-social activities, vocational training, recreational activities and spiritual enhancement. "It is premature to estimate the duration of the rehabilitation process as we need to assess the progress of each inmate," Wijetilleke said. It must necessarily include a ‘follow up’ mechanism ensuring that those who are rehabilitated will be integrated into society as productive citizens. "Very often these individuals fear being shunned by society once they return. To debunk these attitudes, there is an ambitious scheme being contemplated - which is to establish a model village and to settle the families of those who are rehabilitated." Since the drug menace is largely concentrated in urban areas, the model village is to be established close to the Kandekadu Rehabilitation and Treatment Centre in Polonnaruwa. The area being an agricultural hub, it is intended to harness the manpower of such a settlement in agricultural pursuits.

With family welfare of the inmates in mind, the Rehabilitation Centre is to be accessible to family members and the inmates could be visited. Speaking on the possibilities of expanding the pilot project, Wijetilleke said "if we do not receive anymore ex cadres at Senapura Camp next year, we may expand the project to that area too."

Courtesy - The Island