Most prisoners inactive

2014-04-12 00:00

CAPE TOWN — Just four percent of all prisoners in South Africa work productively, in workshops or agriculture centres.

This has emerged from a report issued this week by the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Rehabilitation of Offenders (Nicro).

There are more than 150 000 inmates in South Africa’s prisons.

Politicians confirmed the findings in the Nicro report about the situation in South African prisons.

The DA said prisons are a ticking timebomb. The IFP said the government has failed prisoners by not providing facilities where they can be productively occupied.

The report indicates that 100 prisoners sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment cost taxpayers almost R296,2 million over that period.

Prison workshops produce furniture like school benches and prisoners’ uniforms. There are also bread bakeries and agriculture centres that farm poultry, pigs, vegetables and fruit.

Velaphi Ndlovu, the IFP’s spokesperson on Correctional Services, said it is almost a crime that so few inmates, who could produce their own food and reduce the burden on taxpayers, are doing so.

“The department is letting prisoners down. It has enormous human capital at its disposal in prisons. Why don’t they use it?”

Advocate Lennit Max, the DA’s spokesperson on the issue, said the law says prisoners are not obliged to work, and therefore work opportunities are only provided to those who volunteer.

“The report confirms what we have seen during oversight visits — there are prisons where inmates literally just eat and sleep.

“According to policy, a prison sentence is supposed to rehabilitate the inmate. Getting them to work would not only limit costs to the taxpayer, but also rehabilitate people better.”

But Max said it is unlikely that anything will change dramatically in the foreseeable future.

“Correctional Services is one of the departments that get negative audit reports year after year, but commissioners are rewarded with bonuses.

“There is no managerial or political will to change things,” he said.

Regan Jules-Macquet, who compiled the Nicro report, said that aside from the lack of productive employment, there is also a shortage of psychologists and social workers to see to inmates’ needs.

For example, there is just one psychologist for more than 1 500 inmates. The report says only 20% of prisoners make use of psychological services, while almost three-quarters are serving sentences for violent and sexual offences.

Logan Maistry, spokesperson for Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele, said there is a strong focus on rehabilitation, which sees inmates learning skills that they can use after they are released.

He said almost 10 000 were trained as electricians, plumbers and other artisans in the past financial year.

An extra R50 million was budgeted between 2012 and March 2014 for this training.

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