Living it up in jail

2013-05-09 00:00

THEY have cellphones and mobile DStv devices, and if they’re in KwaZulu-Natal, they even quaff expensive cognac.

They also watch The Bold and the Beautiful and phone friends and family late at night about the British football they’ve enjoyed on television.

No, these are not the Guptas, Oppenheimers or the Motsepes — but some inmates in South African prisons who are apparently enjoying the life of Riley behind bars.

So says a fed-up Vincent Smith, ANC MP and the chairperson of the National Assembly’s correctional services committee.

He was speaking at a meeting in Parliament yesterday where the top management of the national Correctional Services Department were quizzed by MPs.

The MPs were unhappy about the information made available by the officials, who were briefing the committee about incidents of violence in prisons like Groenpunt in the Free State, Pollsmoor in the Western Cape and St Albans in the Eastern Cape.

As far as Smith was concerned, the department’s submission was “very thin”.

“Nowhere is there any mention of cellphones in prisons. If you say the gangs inside and outside are the same and they communicate with one another daily, why don’t you install devices that can block cellphone signals?

“No one has mentioned the officers that conspire with inmates to smuggle in cellphones. The cellphones land up there because the officials are smuggling them in.”

Smith also spoke about drugs and DStv Walkas that were smuggled in, and then he turned to Durban-Westville Prison. “In Durban-Westville they are drinking Hennessey. We get calls at midnight, because some are related to us. Twelve at night. ‘No, I’m sitting here with a Hennessey and a DStv Walka and I’m watching Liverpool versus Arsenal’.”

All these matters could be addressed if Correctional Services decided to use the right technology, said Smith.

He suggested a “bosberaad” to tackle the issue.

He said there was resistance to devices that could block cellphone signals, because that would mean prison officials would also not be able to use theirs.

However, chief security officer Gcinumzi Ntlakana said the real reason was that the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (Icasa) had prohibited law enforcement agencies in South Africa from installing devices that block cellphone signals. Smith, however, was unconvinced.

If Icasa could not offer an alternative to the problem, the matter must be taken up with Correctional Services Minister S’bu Ndebele.

“We were not aware of this, but now we know that there is a legal hurdle, and it will be discussed during the ‘bosberaad’.

Ntlakana acknowledged that gangs were a “common phenomenon” in prisons.

Statistics showed that KwaZulu-Natal prisons suffered most from gang activities, followed by the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape and Gauteng.

“Most of the gang activities take place after hours when the least personnel are on duty. Feuds between community gangs spill over to prison gangs, which complicates the dynamics,” Ntlakana said.

ANC MP Winnie Ngwenya again suggested that closed-circuit television cameras should monitor the centres at night.

Her colleague, ANC MP Salam Abram, ascribed the existence of gangs to idleness. He said a “battle plan” against gang activities should be drawn up.

Western Cape regional manager Delekile Klaas said Correctional Services did not have a mandate to gather its own intelligence.

A task team was formed by the National Intelligence Co-ordinating Committee to investigate gang violence.

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