THE National Assembly recently passed a new law to guide the operations of the Lesotho Correctional Service (LCS). The Lesotho Correctional Services Act No.3 of 2016 regulates the organisation, administration and discipline within the LCS and came into effect on 1 July 2016.
In this wide-ranging interview, LCS legal officers, Senior Superintendent Mokhethi Raphuthing and Correctional Officer Teboho ’Mopa, discuss with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, about the details of the new law and what it means for the agency.
LT: Please briefly explain what the new law is all about.
Raphuthing: The Lesotho Correctional Services Act No.3 of 2016 repeals the Basutoland Prison Proclamation of No.30 of 1957. Unlike the Proclamation, the Act broadly addresses the institutional issues with specific focus on the following sectors; administration, staff, inmates and the latter’s issues that relate to the general community. That is basically what the law entails. Conversely, the repealed Proclamation mainly addressed administration in relation to both the institution and the inmates. However, it did not say much about staff issues, particularly their welfare. It only addressed disciplinary issues in terms of the code of conduct.
LT: What are the new issues brought up by the new law?
Raphuthing: The law also addresses the issue of inmates’ torture and harassment. Although the Proclamation also addressed this issue, it was not specific. The new law is very clear that no inmate should be subjected to any form of torture. Also the issue of the inmates’ release, in terms of parole, was not addressed in specific terms in the Proclamation as it is being addressed in the Act. The Act is much more detailed and specific. The Act even establishes what is called the Parole Board. We never had that before. Like I said earlier, the new law also introduces issues of how recruitment of staff and other administrative issues should be conducted in a much more efficient and transparent manner.
LT: Apart from the repealed Proclamation, were there any other laws that guided the operations of the LCS?
Raphuthing: In the words used by my (Acting) Commissioner, ’Matefo Mkhalemele, the LCS before the establishment of this Act was like a bat. A bat can be regarded as a bird or a mouse. It doesn’t fit both categories. In like manner, we were using several laws in which some sections related to us. So we were like bats.
Other than the Proclamation, we used laws like the Public Service Order of 1970 which was more inclusive of other government departments. With us specifically, we used the Public Service Order more on issues of recruitment and administration. But on issues affecting the inmates, we relied on the Proclamation.
The Public Service Order of 1970 was, however, repealed in 1995 by the Public Service Act of 1995. Section 3 of the latter Act made it clear security agencies like us should be taken out of the public service and establish their own independent laws to guide their operations. Other departments like the Teaching Service Commission were also removed from this group. Other security agencies and departments had new laws governing their operations enacted in line with the first amendment of the Constitution of Lesotho in 1996. However, we remained like bats until the coming of the Lesotho Correctional Services Act No.3 of 2016.
The heads of security agencies were vested with powers to take charge of their institutions by the First Amendment to the Constitution of Lesotho of 1996. And for them to do so, they had to establish and enact laws that guided them. The army were quick to enact their law in 1996. The police followed suit in 1998 and we remained bats, relying on the Public Service Act which was clear through section 3 that we should no longer fall under the general public service guidelines. This brought some challenges to us specifically in terms of recruitment and other administrative issues.
LT: What took you so long to establish your own law?
Raphuthing: For a long time, we did not have a legal office that would deal with legislative issues within the department. The office was only established around 2006. It was manned with legal personnel who then facilitated the establishment and enactment of the Act. This does not necessarily mean that we didn’t have personnel with a legal background prior to the establishment of the legal office around 2006. But without a specific office resourced with legal personnel to perform that duty, it was difficult to draft such a law. There were still some hiccups even after the office was established and the drafting of the law was in the pipeline. There were delays as the draft bill was being sent from one relevant authority to the other for consultations and input. The bill was only tabled before parliament last year and fortunately, it was enacted into a law in July 2016.
LT: If I may take you back a little. You talked about the Parole Board being established by the new Act. Tell us about this board; what does it do, and how is it composed?
Raphuthing: According to section 45 of the Act, the Parole Board shall be established to administer the inmates’ parole issues, as per the name. Its composition is such that there should be a chairperson, a magistrate, a social worker, a medical practitioner and an officer from the LCS. These five people should be appointed by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services. We are currently working on the regulations for the Act to establish the exact functions of the board. The office of the Commissioner is busy at the moment to establish the regulations.
LT: Before the new law, how were you dealing with parole issues for inmates?
Raphuthing: Perhaps I should first explain the difference between what we call parole and amnesty. People often confuse the two terms to mean one thing. We have always released our inmates on parole but that process has not been fully effective until the coming of this Act. In other words, there were no strict guidelines to control our paroles. The basic requirement for our parole has always been that the inmates should have at least served half of the imprisonment sentence for eligibility to be released on parole with certain conditions. Apart from those requirements, we also made sure the inmate was indeed rehabilitated and that it conducive for him or her to go back to the community.
’Mopa: It is significant to note that there are conditions after the inmate has been released on parole. One of the conditions is that they should report back to the correctional institution periodically until we are satisfied they are indeed rehabilitated. Before the enactment of the Lesotho Correctional Services Act No.3 of 2016, our Rehabilitation Officers administered parole based on what we call Standing Orders. Now that the board is there, paroles will be run smoothly. The Rehabilitation Officers also held what we call the offender/victim mediations to ensure also the community environment was conducive for the eligible inmate to be released. The Parole Board is still going to work together with the Rehabilitation Officers to administer parole issues.
Amnesty, on the other hand, is whereby the inmates are forgiven and relieved of their imprisonment sentences by relevant authorities like the King. Amnesty is different from parole in that the King reserves the right to choose a particular criteria through which he forgives the inmates. He will set up the number and conditions for the release on amnesty himself. For our part, we will just compile the set number of inmates to be released.
However, just like in parole, the Rehabilitation Officers also ensure the inmates released on amnesty are eligible in the sense that they have been rehabilitated. Be that as it may, when the time comes for certain inmates to be released, they will be set free regardless of whether the community is still angry with them or not.
LT: Generally speaking, what are the effects of the new law to the LCS?
’Mopa: The law brings in the element of autonomy and independence for the institution. It smoothens the day-to-day operations of the organisation. It allocates different responsibilities to each of us in the organisation. It also brings accountability and transparency. The Act enables the Commissioner to fully exercise his or her rights under clear guidelines. This law means we are now covered to perform any of our duties accordingly. It serves as a benchmark to our operations.