No safety in police custody

2012-07-20 00:00

I USED to feel sorry for police officers who were killed by criminals. It used to break my heart because I truly believed that our country needs our police. But their flippant brutality has killed that compassion, more so because the reason for my dissatisfaction is not hearsay, but something that happened to a loved one.

A close family member was taken into custody last Thursday and was kept in a holding cell for the weekend.

There he was ill treated by his cell mates who took his clothing and demanded cigarettes and airtime from him. One of the criminals had a cellphone on him and he kept hassling us, wanting airtime, sheets and all sorts of things so that he can “look after my brother”.

It didn’t just end there though. He was also badly beaten up by a jail warden after he’d been released on bail.

Instead of being freed on Monday he was put on the wrong truck and ended up in prison where he spent another night. This for me poses a few concerns about our justice system and the role it is meant to be playing in society.

Firstly, not everyone who ends up in that holding cell is a criminal at heart.

Just because most criminals behave like animals, not everyone inside is a criminal.

And even if that were the case, being in a holding cell surely doesn’t mean one is completely stripped of one’s rights. Secondly, it doesn’t make sense for criminals to be allowed to attack each other in a police-controlled environment.

It sounds totally bizarre! Where is the order? Yes, no one can be held accountable for another’s behaviour but who has the authority in a prison or police station? And why isn’t that authority enforced? Or is it the norm that criminals have free rein in jail?

I hear people saying “these things happen in jail” and “the police know it’s happening, it happens all the time”, but does this make it right? Is it right for a person who has the authority to calm a situation not to exercise it because it’s happening all the time?

A teacher has authority in a classroom, a judge has authority in the court room, and a doctor has authority in his surgery. It’s only natural that we expect a police officer to have authority in his territory as well.

Thirdly, I am appalled by the criminal behaviour of the New Prison wardens who beat up two innocent young boys who had already been through an ordeal.

Never mind the fact that they were sent to New Prison by mistake.

Of course it’s jail and no one expects the police to be nice and offer the accused a cup of tea and cookies. But they are expected to do what citizens’ taxes pay them to do. They must make arrests and read out rights. They must maintain order and civility among prisoners and within holding cells, and they must continuously protect the rights of everyone, regardless of why they are there.

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