Prison’s 1 000 cells …

2013-10-29 00:00

A RAID at the Westville Medium B prison netted more than 1 000 cellphones and led to 12 warders being bust for their alleged role in smuggling the contraband to convicts.

KZN prisons boss Mnikelwa Nxele yesterday accused the warders, who have since been suspended, of trying to incite prisoners to embark on a hunger strike to stop the raids.

The Department of Correctional Services is now investigating how inmates had access to cellphones, tablets, DVD players, drugs, home-made alcohol and phone sim cards.

With a population of just over 3 000 inmates, about one in three prisoners could have had access to a cellphone.

The centre is the country’s most overcrowded prison. Its approved accommodation is 2 137 but it currently holds 3 370 inmates.

Major raids on Durban’s Westville prison in the past have unearthed pornographic DVDs, knives, cellphones, drugs and even cash.

The most recent raid was conducted over two weeks, at the prison’s men-only Medium B section. It was initiated after a member of the public tipped off correctional officials that a gun had been smuggled into the cells.

At a media briefing yesterday, regional correctional commissioner Nxele said more than 1 000 cellphones were confiscated from inmates.

Warders also found 25 kilograms and 1 602 straws of dagga, 402 straws of whoonga and 1 015 sim cards. The contraband was concealed in radios, electric kettles and irons.

The inmates also used bread, oranges, pineapple peels and yeast to brew alcohol.

“During the searches it was discovered that there was lawlessness and anarchy at the centre. Security had been compromised and some prison officials and members of the public had been dealing in drugs.

“We have since referred the names of the implicated members of the public to other security agencies.

“Twelve of our own officers have since been suspended after some of them were linked to the syndicate through information retrieved from the cellphones that were confiscated,” said Nxele.

He said the department was working on more leads that could result in more suspensions.

The prisons boss said it pained him to reveal that there were officials who had formed a syndicate with inmates and members of the public to smuggle illegal items into correctional facilities.

Nxele said once warders confiscated the inmates’ phones, they found information that revealed links to some of the suspended officers.

“After we were tipped off about the existence of a firearm inside the Medium B centre, we decided to embark on a raid in an attempt to recover the weapon.

“Although we have not found the weapon, the source of this information is credible so we will continue with the search. A weapon is smuggled inside a correctional facility for one reason, to stage an escape. Our concern is that people might get hurt in the process of whatever happens with the weapon,” said Nxele.

An e-mail sent to The Witness last week by someone purporting to be in Westville prison revealed that warders were looking for cellphones every night.

“The warders make us lie down naked and beat us and say we must not look them in the face.

“We don’t know what to do … they say they want cellphones but cellphones help us stay out of the gangs.

“Sometimes the cellphones help us to get girlfriends on the Internet because not all of us get visitors,” the e-mail said.

The e-mail sender claimed he was serving a 20-year sentence and that prisoners had embarked on a hunger strike because of the head of the prison’s rules.

The judicial inspectorate for Correctional Services said it was not aware of the recent raids and seizure of contraband.

Acting CEO Michael Masondo said he would liaise with his legal team and would dispatch his officials to the facility today.

“A report will be compiled once we understand what had happened. Depending on the findings of the team, an investigation could be undertaken,” he said.

PRISON warders are paid up to R250 to smuggle in cellphones for prisoners, a well-placed source in the Westville Prison said yesterday. The warders then claim their money from the prisoner’s family or from the prisoner’s “account”.

Drugs like whoonga and dagga are commonly smuggled in by the warders in exchange for R50, he said.

Tightly rolled bank notes and micro sim cards are slipped into toothpaste tubes, cigarette cartons, and cooked sausages. Okapi knives, believed to be favoured by the prisoners, is also high on the smuggling list and can fetch a top price ranging from R200, he said.

“About 60% of items are smuggled by prison warders, with prisoners making up the other 40%.”

The official confirmed that the raid at prisons was ongoing ever since The Witness first reported on the attempted escape from Kokstad C-Max by serial escaper Ananias Mathe.

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