Prisons break laws on youth

2013-01-11 00:00

CAPE TOWN — The Correctional Services Department has come under fire in a critical report on children in prisons.

Opposition parties have described the findings of the research, which was commissioned by the department, as “extremely shocking”.

The report by the Prison Reform Initiative, which was compiled by professors Lukas Munting and Clare Ballard, is based on visits to 41 prisons in 2011 and 2012.

One of the findings was that several prisons held awaiting-trial youths who by law had to go to school, without giving them access to education. The Pretoria and King William’s Town prisons are among the facilities guilty in this regard.

According to the South African Schools Act of 1996, schooling is compulsory for all South Africans from the age of seven (Grade 1) to the age of 15, or the completion of Grade 9.

In certain prisons, young detainees also did not have access to recreational facilities and spent their time watching television in their cells.

In the Cradock prison, board games are provided, but in Port Elizabeth, the young suspects have nothing with which to while away the empty hours.

Overcrowding is also an issue in many of the prisons. In King William’s Town, each child has less than one square metre of floor space. The international standard is 3,344 m² per child.

The report also states that eight in 10 wardens had received no training to work with children.

Some 40% of the children in the 41 prisons had received no visitors in the months preceding and following the interviews by the Prison Reform Initiative.

The report states there is little evidence that the department is encouraging the children to contact their families. They must pay for phone cards or stationery to write letters where this is available. Children with no money thus have no means of contacting their families.

Awaiting trial children mostly do not have access to psychiatrists.

From interviews with the children, it was clear that the quality of, as well as access to, legal services were insufficient. This led to children being kept in custody when they would have qualified for bail.

Most of the children in prison also indicated that they were not informed of their rights and had to learn these from other children in the crowded cells.

The researchers said their findings showed none of the department’s prisons was correctly applying national laws, the Constitution or international conventions.

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