Penal reform is a challenge across the world. In Africa, those who are incarcerated are especially
vulnerable and often deprived of basic human rights. Prison conditions are generally dire,
resources are limited, and at times undue force is used to control inmates. The public attitude
towards offenders is also not encouraging. Reform efforts include finding alternative ways of
sentencing such as community service, making use of halfway houses and reducing sentences.
These efforts have not yet yielded the desired results. The four principles of retribution,
deterrence, incapacitation and rehabilitation guide penal practice in Africa. Retribution and
rehabilitation stand in tension. Deterrence and incapacitation aim at forcing inmates to
conform to the social order. The article argues that prison chaplaincy can make a valuable
contribution to restoring the dignity and humanity of those who are incarcerated. Chaplaincy
can contribute to improving attitudes and practices in the penal system and society. In addition
to the social objective of rehabilitation, prison ministry can, on a spiritual level, also facilitate
repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation. The aim is the holistic restoration of human beings.