The life of children behind bars in SA

2012-05-26 16:57

Families rarely visit, there is no schooling and kids spend 70 days awaiting trial

South Africa’s prisons are harsh, lonely places for the hundreds of children doing time.

Their families rarely visit and, in some cases, they no longer have the right number to call home.

They don’t go to school and, some say, they don’t believe being behind bars rehabilitates them at all.

In a new report by the Civil Society Prisons Reform Initiative, it emerged that children spend on average of 70 days awaiting trial in prisons.

In some cases, though, under-18s can spend up to two years in prison while waiting for their trial to start.

The report was compiled by Lukas Muntingh and Clare Ballard. It is to be released tomorrow.

“It may indeed be argued that, when stretched out over such a long period, it is more than likely that a child will lose interest and feel more the victim than the offender,” the authors said in their report.

During this time, the children miss out on schooling. Some of them join gangs to keep safe and to protect themselves from older inmates who steal their clothes and shoes.

Children come into contact with older inmates in some prisons with insufficient facilities, or when they are transported to court.

In 2008, a 15-year-old boy was put in a cell with adult criminals at Durban-Westville Prison and was repeatedly raped.

He was in custody after stealing a pair of pants worth R49 from Woolworths.

Children generally reported good treatment from warders, although one said he was hit “once with an iron pipe” by a warder.

But he didn’t lay a charge because he was in the wrong.

“We were running around in the cell late at night and they told us to keep quiet,” he told the authors of the report, adding that he and others were “playing”.

In 85% of the prisons and detention centres surveyed, staff working in the unsentenced children’s section had not been trained to work with children, Muntingh and Ballard found.

In the sentenced children’s section, this figure was 83%.

In 70% of centres, staff had not received training on suicide prevention, conflict resolution or child protection.

The good news is that the number of children in prison has decreased significantly – from more than 4 000 in 2003 to about 500 last year.

Some concerns were raised about the legal support children received – only 43% were assessed by a probation officer, although according to law all children arrested must be assessed.

Many children said they had limited access to lawyers and often only saw them at court when their cases were about to be called.

Some said they were confused and didn’t have the processes explained to them.

Many children lose touch with their families while in prison and some no longer even have their home phone numbers.

At Brandvlei prison, 65% of children had not received any visits from their families in the past three months, while in Johannesburg this figure was 75% and in Rustenburg 50%.

A 17-year-old identified as Gavin, in Worcester’s Brandvlei prison, told researchers: “My family say they will come, but they never do.

“They also don’t pay money on my property (inmate’s account). I depend on my tjommie to give me a phone card.”

Access to sport and recreational activities is also limited to between seven and 14 hours a week, which means one to two hours a day, and is often determined by how many officials are on duty.

Children often get bored. Sam (16) told researchers: “I have lots of time to think because nothing happens in my section – no programmes, no school.

“So I feel ready to leave here now, but I don’t feel like I am being rehabilitated here in prison. I don’t do anything.”

Simba (17) disagreed: “Even though I don’t like it here, there is lots of time to think about things and my family. It makes me want to go home and behave better this time.”

Click here to read the full report.



Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.