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The reintegration challenges of ex-prisoners in Mauritius

Prisoners hands behind bars

70% of ex-prisoners are recidivists as social reintegration is very difficult under Mauritian laws and poverty pushes convicts back to prisons. Let’s dig into this with Dominique Chan Low, programme executive at the NGO “Ki Nou Ete”.

There are different perceptions of prisoners and ex-convicts in Mauritius. According to some stereotypes, ex-convicts are unable to change their ways and need to be excluded from society. Others have faith and believe that ex-convicts need help to be rehabilitated and reintegrated in society. 

The NGO “Ki Nou Ete” is a firm believer of the second school of thought. «After prison, everyone has the right to a second chance. ». That’s the motto of Ki Nou Ete, situated in Beau Bassin.

Difficult rehabilitation due to Mauritian laws and poverty

Ki Nou Ete exists since 2001. It started to work in women’s prisons with psychotherapists who did listening and group counseling sessions. As they gained experience, they became an official NGO in 2003. They then started working with men and women in prison. Gradually their team grew. In 2013 they opened a women’s center in Palma. 

The center lasted until 2016 but was forced to close due to a lack of funding. The center catered for women coming out of prison and who had nowhere to go. Since 2013, Ki Nou Ete has worked in every prison in Mauritius and from time to time in Rodrigues as well to reintegrate and rehabilitate both female and male convicts. 

Ki Nou Ete started to work with teenagers in 2016 through the Rehabilitation Youth Center (RYC), both boys and girls, and the Correctional Youth Centre (CYC) boys for the rehabilitation and reintegration of the youth.

In an interview, Dominique Chan Low says: “ In Mauritius, there are 70% of people who come out of prison every year, return to prison. That’s the current situation in Mauritius,” he tells Aufait.media.

He says: “It is a huge percentage. Social reintegration is very difficult under our laws. For instance, the employer is authorised to ask someone his character certificate before employment. If it’s written that they have been convicted, they are automatically excluded.”

According to Dominique Chan Low the Mauritian society is not very forgiving and keeps judging those who have been to prison. “Convicts, who already paid for what they did are still not allowed to be reintegrated”, he says. 

The Programme Executive also highlights that poverty is one main factor for the high percentage of recidivists in Mauritius. Poverty pushes convicts to go back to prisons. “A lot of people find themselves in instant poverty once released from prisons. They have no food or money to pay for rent”, he argues. “So, they have nothing. And if they end on the streets, they most probably start stealing again and return to prison eventually“, he adds.

Focusing on personal developments and awareness

To prevent such things, Ki Nou Ete works with each inmate individually. The aim is to work on the person, be it in individual therapy or in group therapy. They focus on personal developments with both the female and male inmates. The NGO also provides pre-release for those who will come out in the next eighteen months. In the case of minors, many activities are being done to enable them to recover.

Ki Nou Ete also works a lot with the inmates’ families, which consist of both adults and minors. The reason why they do so is to enable the reintegration within the family unless there has been a rape case or a murder case. But Dominique Chan Low points out that too many times, this didn’t work, leading ex-convicts to relapse in delinquency or returning back to prison.

We work with the families before the person comes out. It is twice as much for minors because it is even more difficult for a kid whose parents put them in the RYC to return to the family afterward,” he says.

Ki Nou Ete, however, is positive in what they do as they do have a success rate of 96% that is approximately 4% of their beneficiaries return to prison every year.

Dominique Chan Low explains that a lot of the ex-convicts were able to build up their life again. “A lot of them were able to get a stable job, we were able to work with employers who accepted to employ ex-convicts, and others opened a business of their own,” he explains before adding: “there are also people that we put in medical institutions related to HIV and drugs, where they follow their treatment and live properly.”

In terms of awareness, Ki Nou Ete offers many talks on the prevention of drugs, HIV, hepatitis, and tuberculosis. They try to raise awareness in the carceral state on problems linked to drugs. Furthermore, a lot of awareness campaigns are to come to raise awareness in society. 

Ki Nou Ete also has a project with other NGO’s to improve the mental and physical health of ex-convicts. Along with awareness campaigns, there is also advocacy for employment whereby a project is being set up to help convicts find jobs. The NGO is working closely with employers who could employ and also a project to encourage ex-convicts to open small enterprises.

Fanfan: “For me, 4 years was a long time.”

What life after prison is like? Ex-convict Fanfan talks a bit about how everything has been after prison. Fanfan did prison for four years for drug use. Life stopped the moment he stepped into prison.

“When I got out, I had to pick up from where I left. I was a bit scared, as I could not walk around the way I wanted to. I had been living differently during my 4 years of imprisonment. When I got freed, things changed. It wasn’t easy. For others, time went by fast, but for me, 4 years was a long time”, he says.

He adds: “It took me time to find my place. Life isn’t easy. I was a drug consumer. And what was worse was that I lived in a neighborhood where all my friends were into drugs. So, when I got back, it was hard to fight the temptation.”

Fanfan also tells us that, back then, there was no NGO such as Ki Nou Ete to help. “Projects such as rehabilitation and reintegration to society weren’t available then. There were no

therapy sessions available or NGO’s that would help in such a way. The ones who were already established were different from now”, he says.

He also highlights that if there’s no job in place, going back to prison is inevitable: “Because when you don’t work, you are home all day and what happens is that you go out and meet people who are in the same situation and there is a relapse in drugs.”

He encourages people in the same situation to fight and find a solution to stop using drugs. “You can’t fight drugs or alcohol, it is not easy to stop, you need strong willpower. The first thing to do is to avoid temptations at all costs. Then you have a chance,” he concludes.