Westville prison

2013-11-08 00:00

THE opinion piece on Correctional Services published in The Witness on November 5 misses the point on the actual challenges confronting the Department of Correctional Services in general, and Westville specifically.

It is misleading to suggest that what is happening at Medium B Correctional Centre in Westville is a result of the Department of Correctional Services’s failure to implement the recommendations of the Jali Commission. In fact, the department has learnt and benefited immensely from insight gained from the report, its findings and recommendations. The department has acted on the recommendations from the first interim report tabled in 2002 to the final report handed over to the presidency in 2005.

It is unhelpful to suggest that what is happening in Westville can be cured merely by revisiting the findings and the recommendations of the commission. For the record, the work done by the commission was at the request of and in discussion between the then minister Ben Skosana and former president Thabo Mbeki.

What is happening in Medium B can be summed up as a lack of understanding and appreciation of the role and responsibility of the department by a section of our communities, a few corrupt members of Correctional Services in that centre and rogue elements among inmates. The department, as part of the criminal justice system of this country, exists to ensure the safety of our citizens by, among others, contributing to the rehabilitation of offenders and their humane incarceration. A number of programmes are offered by the department, other partnering departments and NGOs to deal with the offending behaviour of inmates, enrol them for studies, skills development and social reintegration. We cannot become distracted from the fundamental responsibility of ensuring the safety of our people in South Africa as long as illegal acts by any of the role players hinder the rehabilitation process. As a region, and as part of this national department and the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster, we commit to do everything humanely possible to flush out the rogue elements who are hiding in our uniform, disguised as rehabilitators. We will work tirelessly with all well-meaning partners in line with our belief that correction is a collective societal responsibility.

It is true that the department in general is faced with the challenge of overcrowding in many of its centres, but more so in Medium B Centre. We are working with other provinces to ensure the even distribution of offenders so that we can provide opportunities for effective rehabilitation through appropriate and needs-based programmes. We have noted the negative impacts overcrowding has on a centre like Medium B. The work we are doing is aimed at restoring normality and stability in all facets of the centre so that officials have a sense of duty and the space to do their work.

The security of any centre, including Medium B, is the primary function of the department, without which other programmes cannot take place. The department has what it calls an eight-pronged strategy that includes technology/CCTV capability. It is our belief that key to any security system is human capital in the form of conscious and committed correctional officers. We have not commented on the status of the security system in Durban for obvious reasons. Let those who are determined to spread malicious information about the department be warned that they will not deter our resolve to act with firmness against culprits.

The creation of the Judicial Inspectorate on Correctional Services was a culmination of extensive consultation with a number of role players within the corrections fraternity. While the department noted the views and recommendations of the Jali Commission in relation to the creation of the prison ombudsman, it felt that there exists enough legal framework and institutions to deal with corruption and related matters within Correctional Services. It is worth repeating what the commission said: that no one institution can deal with corruption alone. It requires effort by all correctional officers and public servants to root out corruption. We agree with this observation and we implore all colleagues in Correctional Services and the entire public service to do their part to defeat the scourge of corruption.

We remain committed to this cause no matter what it takes, in honour of those who died for our freedom and future generations.

• Mnikelwa Nxele is the regional commissioner: KZN Department of Correctional Services.

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