Prisons in Africa tend to focus on punitive measures rather than on the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates into society. In African traditional courts, inmates were not sentenced to be imprisoned but were rather helped to reform. Crime is a great challenge to the growth and development of the African continent. People in the prisons of Africa are in general vulnerable, poor, oppressed and marginalized. From the perspective of liberation theology, the aim would be to give hope to the incarcerated. Prisons in Africa tend to contribute to a culture of delinquency, categorize and isolate criminal types and construct new social subjects. The prison system is flawed and promotes the very reason for the existence of penal institutions.
The study seeks to understand the realities of pastoral care and prison chaplaincy in Africa. It investigates the ways in which pastoral care and prison chaplaincy could play a constructive and life-changing role in the lives of inmates. The study investigates the nature, work, challenges and contributions of pastoral care and chaplaincy in prisons of Africa. The investigation examines what prison chaplaincy in Africa could learn from their counterparts in Latin America, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. The specific situation of prisons in Zimbabwe is highlighted as a case study.
A qualitative research method was selected because its open-endedness fits well with the investigation at hand. Theological reflection opens avenues and opportunities to make voices of marginalized groups heard. Self-reflection and the participation of marginal groups is core to theological reflection as well as to the professed political agenda of most nations. A type of penal institution that is new in spirit, method and objective could contribute to the reform of the prison industry, the global reality of which is at present rather complex and confused.
The practical theological model of Richard Osmer (2008:4) which identifies four tasks of reflection: descriptive-empirical, interpretative, normative and pragmatic is used as a framework for the development of best practice model of pastoral care and prison chaplaincy in Africa. Although prisons in South Africa have their shortcomings, the penal systems and pastoral care services seem to be well-organized. In the United States model of pastoral care and prison chaplaincy, faith-based organisations are treated equally and federal and state prisons are well structured unlike those in Africa. Pastoral care and prison chaplaincy on the continent of Africa will require an indigenous African-based theology to effectively address the needs of prisoners.