Seeing the person, not just the number: Needs-based rehabilitation of offenders in South African prisons

  • Friedo Johann Willem Herbig University of South Africa
  • Ann-Mari Elizabeth Hesselink University of South Africa
Keywords: rehabilitation, offenders, South Africa, needs-based rehabilitation, crime, prison programmes


South Africa has one of the highest crime and recidivism rates in the world. Although widely accepted that crime is a complex and multi-nodal social phenomenon, it is indubitably causally linked to South Africa’s historical and current socio-political circumstances, poverty and  unemployment, as well as the ineffective rehabilitation and treatment of offenders. Anecdotal evidence suggests that offenders are often apportioned the blame for reoffending and written off as incorrigible, without any real reflection on the efficiency and/or relevance of the prison programmes to which they were subjected to begin with. Accurate and relevant assessment of criminogenic risk factors is not only  connected to the major outcomes of meta-analyses, but forms the foundation for treatment-planning and decision-making pertaining to risk and safety, and ultimately abstinence from aberrant behaviour. This article critically addresses the issue of South African needs-based offender rehabilitation in a systemic and diagnostic manner by aligning theory with relevant case scenarios in order to expose the essence of the therapeutic challenges in the South African custodial environment.

Author Biographies

Friedo Johann Willem Herbig, University of South Africa

Department of Criminology & Security Science



Ann-Mari Elizabeth Hesselink, University of South Africa
Department of Criminology & Security Science
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