Georgina Guedes

Oscar too good for prison?

2014-10-17 14:17

Georgina Guedes

If Oscar Pistorius shouldn’t have to go to prison because it’s a horrible place, shouldn’t the same be said of every other criminal in South Africa, says Georgina Guedes.

Fyodor Dostoevsky said, “You can judge a society by how well it treats its prisoners.”

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that South Africa isn’t doing so well on this measure. The situation in our prisons needs to be addressed. If, as we heard in the Oscar Pistorius sentencing hearing, our prisons are hotbeds of gangsterism, rape and drugs, this is something that our justice system needs to turn its full attention to.

Prisons should not be places where criminal behaviour is concentrated, focused and refined; they should be places where people are given a chance at rehabilitation. Sure, the prisoners’ freedom has been taken from them, but their other human rights should remain – and I don’t believe that this is the case at all in South Africa.

Oscar shouldn’t have to go

However, I have found the detailing of the horrors of South African prisons in mitigation of Pistorius’s potential sentence rather distasteful.

Let’s for a moment put aside the issue of his disability, which I believe is relevant – but I also believe has been addressed by the State who outlined that 128 disabled people are incarcerated annually and that our prisons do have the facilities to deal with them.

I found the listing of the horrors of prison as a reason that Pistorius shouldn’t be sent there, to be yet another underscoring of the privilege he has enjoyed throughout this whole legal process. The man has anxiety and has been through trauma? Prisons are overcrowded, there are gangsters, inmates are in possession of items they shouldn’t have? These are not unique to this case.  

So should we play a recording of this description in mitigation of sentence at every murder trial in South Africa? Because I don’t see why a wealthy, white person should get away without prison time, simply because prisons are nasty places. Then every criminal in South Africa should be eligible for house arrest.

This particular case

I understand that what’s being argued is that Pistorius isn’t guilty of intentional murder, but rather, he accidentally killed his girlfriend by firing four shots through his bathroom door at SOMEONE, in a reckless and negligent manner. Whoops! Jub-jub is doing jail time for essentially the same offence, and nobody said he was too good for prison.

This line of argument, that prison will “break” Oscar is saying that any nice, white, privileged South African male can put a bullet in his wife or girlfriend’s head (through a closed door) and get away with it because prison is a nasty place where only “real” criminals go. And the distinction here is that accidental murderers who should not be given jail time are affluent and white.

And so, a nation waits with bated breath to learn if Oscar will do time in a hellish hotbed of criminal activity or a nice house somewhere with a pool and a cleaner. Since he got off on the worst of the murder charges, I remain hopeful that he’ll be subjected to some punitive measures for his reckless and negligent behaviour.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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