South Africa has a prison population of over one hundred fifty thousand. Some of those held behind bars await to be released and reintegrated in their communities. However, one of the major challenges ex-convicts face in South Africa is unemployment.
Criminologist and Researcher, Africa Monyai explains that the country’s law stipulates that an ex-offender can apply for the expungement of their criminal record ten years from the date of conviction provided they have not been convicted of any other offence during the ten-year period.
“According to our engagement with ex-offenders, the challenge find is is that ex offenders normally obtain certain skills whether they become artisans but when they come out of prison, they can’t find employment because of the criminal record issue. Even when they apply for funding for their businesses, they can’t get funding because of their criminal records,” he highlighted.
In countries like the US, businesses that hire former inmates are given tax breaks by the government. In South Africa, some believe that this type of model could persuade employers to hire former prisoners.
Monyai appeals to government to collaborate with the private sector in efforts to create employment opportunities as part of the reintegration programme.
“If the government can engage with companies and say to them that if you employ these people we will cut your tax them that will encourage companies to employ ex-offenders. Companies now do not have a motive and they are asking themselves why they should employ ex-offenders. Unfortunately, until that issue is solved, crime will not go down in South Africa,” he said.
Former inmate, Robert Molefe spent close to 5 years behind bars after being found guilty of robbery. Molefe, now reformed, is one of the lucky ones. He got a job as soon as he was released in prison in 2001.
“I think I was lucky. There are guys who come out with well skilled but when they come out they come out with criminal records. Unfortunately, you have to stay ten years before you go and clear your criminal record and that’s why you find that people go back. Remember, in prison you have a free meal, shelter and it is one of the things that might make them go back. It is so difficult because when you are hungry, you’ll do whatever it takes to feed yourself,” explains Molefe
According a study on challenges faced by ex-offenders in South Africa by Professor Victor Chikadzi it is estimated that between 80% to 94% of released prisoners reoffend. This is attributed to ex convicts being ostracised in the job market.