Is the organisation successful in reaching its objectives?
The management board identified several key indicators for the success of the programme work, namely:
- That ‘graduate’ offenders should not return to prison on further charges, i.e. that they would not re-offend and face further criminal charges (recidivism);
- That ‘graduate’ offenders and their families should show positive signs of the restoration of family relationships injured by the act of crime;
- That ‘graduate’ offenders should show signs of personal rehabilitation and the acquisition of problem-solving skills.
- That DCS officials should show increased signs of ‘buy in’ to the aims, methods and results of our programme work.
Are graduates returning to prison?
Statistics reflecting patterns of recidivism (return to prison) in South Africa are severely limited. However, some research has shown that patterns of recidivism are largely aligned with the age, level of maturity, economic and educational opportunities of the offender. Offenders in the 18-24 year age group are at far higher risk of re-offending than offenders aged 50 and above.
Do graduates show positive signs of rehabilitation?
- The hope for re-birth: In evaluation sessions we have consistently heard participants express their identification with the ‘Phoenix bird’ – that is, with the creature that dies ‘by fire’ through an act of its own volition, and rises again from the ashes.
- Reflecting on the past creatively: In evaluation sessions we have repeatedly heard participants reflect on the relevance of the programme material to their own lives. Topics dealt with – particularly substance abuse and addiction, gender relationships, resolving conflict assertively, repairing family relationships – appear to accord deeply with their own life experiences.
- Finding a voice: The narrative approach encourages individuals to explore identity and life experiences through story-telling. In evaluation sessions we have frequently heard participants say they have never before had the experience of sharing in this way.
- Recovering self-esteem: In evaluation sessions we have heard many participants say they would never have come to prison had they been exposed to the programme beforehand. The programme has restored their sense of self. With a stronger sense of self-esteem and personal agency, offenders face the future with more confidence.
- Taking initiative: The programme invites participants to define ways of negotiating the future, being up-front with their personal experiences, using narrative skills to become better listeners and to respectfully, and with dignity, take the initiative in mapping the path ahead.
Do families show positive signs of restoration?
- Unfailingly, families enjoy participating in family conferences. Families enjoy the opportunity for reunion with their loved one in prison. Through the structured conversations, family members have the opportunity to ‘talk tough’ – to share with the inmate their frustrations and sorrows and to talk about the impact that the offence and conviction has had on the family. We have heard families say they never thought such an opportunity would come their way. Some parents and families refuse to sign for their sons. They attend the conference reluctantly. We have seen real reversals in family relationships – from anger and frustration to warmth and acceptance.
Does the DCS ‘buy into’ our work?
By and large, the DCS at these ten centres full endorses, encourages and supports our work. This has been the case over many years. In a 2016 evaluation, heads of prisons at the 10 centres were asked to give feedback on the work of Phoenix at their centres.
HoPs said that their centres rely on Phoenix Zululand to supplement their range of programmes already in implementation. One HoP said:
“Phoenix brings us an excellent programme which is part of a bigger programme of Restorative Justice. It facilitates the offender to take ownership of the crime which in turn begins the process of rehabilitation. Without this, the inmate remains in denial.”
DCS officials spoke highly of the programme and expressed their perception that it has achieved good results. They spoke particularly highly of the power of family conferencing and themselves have received positive feedback from families for the work that the DCS is doing to make these events possible.