The impending release of close to 400 convicts announced by President Mohamed Nasheed on Independence Day will be “a gradual and supervised process,” Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair has said.
Zuhair explained that a coordinated effort involving the Home Ministry, Health Ministry and the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) was currently ongoing.
“[The process] will be divided into phases. All 400 convicts won’t be released at once,” he said.
Zuhair added that the release would be the culmination of months of “an integrated effort” by the concerned authorities to categorise and interview inmates.
“The government has not decided to do this all of a sudden,” he said. “The screening process has been going on for months.”
The interviewing and evaluation process was still ongoing, he continued, and inmates were being categorised to determine whether they needed to enter a rehabilitation programme or other training programmes.
Inmates are to be granted jobs in government companies with a minimum Rf2,000 salary (US$130).
In some cases, said Zuhair, there were “legal complications” caused by some convicts serving multiple sentences.
Zuhair stressed that the inmates would have their “sentences suspended” for a period of three years, during which they would immediately be returned to jail if they were found to have committed any kind of offence.
He added that the released convicts would be subject to “monitoring and constant supervision by the government.”
The authorities are currently engaged in securing job placements and finalising the rehabilitation programmes, he said.
On fears of the released convicts contributing to a rise in crime during Ramadan, Zuhair argued that the government had a “proven track record” with its previous programmes.
Out of 119 inmates released in the past, said Zuhair, only two were arrested and returned to jail.
The vast majority of inmates in Maafushi jail and Himmafushi low-security prison were incarcerated for drug-related offences.
Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader and Spokesperson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef meanwhile stressed that “a balance” should be struck between the security of society and the need to rehabilitate offenders.
“We accept that rehabilitating convicts should be the main priority, but it should be done within a strong rehabilitation programme,” he said. “Law and order and the peacefulness of society must be maintained. If not, the whole country could turn into a jail.”
Shareef also cast doubt on the figures provided by the press secretary: “We don’t believe such numbers given by this government as they always mislead and lie to the public. The public doesn’t have confidence in what the government says anymore.”
He added that previous rehabilitation and parole programmes were not particularly successful in reintegrating inmates into society.
However, said Shareef, “we don’t believe that [convicts] should forever stay in jail either. They are also the children of our friends and families. We will not oppose releasing them through a strong and sound rehabilitation programme.”