Two prisons officials sacked over Harrismith escapes

2010-06-02 15:42

Two correctional services officials have been summarily dismissed

following Monday’s escape of 41 awaiting trial detainees in the Free State,

Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said today.

The incident – by far the single largest group of inmates to escape

to date – was due to a disregard for departmental protocol and criminal charges

would follow, she told the National Assembly.

The incident happened in Harrismith Prison’s section-B between 5

and 6pm during lockdown time, she said.

From information so far available, it seemed that during the change

of shifts after lockdown the head of the awaiting trial detention (ATD) section

allowed officials to leave early and undertook to conduct the hand-over to the

next shift himself.

“Not only was this decision highly irregular, but it also resulted

in the facility operating under capacity as it left a time-gap between the

change of shifts,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.

Secondly, the same head of section allowed for another irregularity

when he gave permission, against policy, for an advocate to enter the holding

cells to consult with a client after lockdown, without the necessary capacity to

even escort the advocate safely into the holding cells.

“It was after this consultation that the head of the section,

together with another official who accompanied the advocate into section-B were

accosted and overpowered by the detainees as they tried to lock the advocate’s

client back into the communal cell,” she said.

Now in possession of keys, the detainees proceeded to open the

other cells to release the other detainees before moving to the centre’s

administration block.

The detainees knew the code used between officials to request doors

and gates be opened and fooled the correctional official guarding the

administration block entrance into opening the gate.

The guard also did not look through the peephole to verify the

identity of the people at the door.

The detainees forced this official to open the gunsafe, took two

firearms, and went to the main gate where the official on duty opened the gate

for them to leave.

“I am particularly disturbed by the action of the head of the

awaiting trial detention section to disregard departmental protocol by allowing

a shift to knock-off without handover, and to further allow consultation to take

place between a detainee and a lawyer after lockdown.”

Mapisa-Nqakula said a multi-departmental investigation would be

instituted to investigate the matter further.

This would also include criminal charges being laid against those

found to be complicit in the incident.

The head of the ATD section and the official at the gate had been

summarily dismissed.

A risk assessment of all correctional centres would be urgently

conducted, looking at both infrastructure and human risks that lead to

escapes.

By close of day yesterday, eight of the escapees – some of whom

were charged with serious crimes –had been re-arrested.

“I want to assure you that everything will be done both to get to

the bottom of these recent escapes, but also to deal with the inherent system

risks to avoid these levels of escapes in the future,” Mapisa-Nqakula said.


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