Crimes commited with impunity in prisons: researcher

2016-11-18 10:14
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Cape Town - Crimes are being committed in South Africa's prisons with impunity, a researcher said at a Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services' (JICS) seminar on prison assault and torture on Thursday.

“What is the Department of Correctional Services doing about it?” asked a frustrated Gwen Dereymaeker of the University of the Western Cape's Dullah Omar Institute.

The last prosecution was in 2009, she said.

According to the JICS's own report distributed at the seminar, it received over 60 000 complaints ranging from assault, to torture, to confiscation of belongings for the period 2015/16.

Of the 60 767 complaints lodged by prisoners, 811 were alleged assaults by department officials, while 625 were “inmate on inmate” assaults.

Fifteen complaints of torture were received. A total of 4 135 of the complaints were about parole.

There were 63 complaints of sexual assault, but these tend to not be reported by the department, but to volunteers.  This was a problem because a victim of a sexual assault needed to report the attack to the department to get medication to prevent HIV infection.

The report contained a case study of a prisoner in Potchefstroom who was forced to lie on his stomach and was raped at knifepoint.

The 7 574 complaints about healthcare were primarily related to delays in receiving medication, or a doctor, or a delay in receiving prescribed medication.

62 unnatural deaths

As many as 3 900 prisoners lodged complaints about communication with their families.

In the past financial year, the JICS received 619 reports of the use of force by officials (up from 461 of the previous year).

The highest incidents of use of force involved officials defending another person. Officials used chemical agents, non-lethal incapacitating devices, and electronically-activated weapons.

There were 62 unnatural deaths in prison for 2015/2016, compared with 46 in 2014/15.

Unnatural deaths are usually homicides, accidents and suicides.

Twenty-five of the 62 reported unnatural deaths were suicides. Of those, 16 were as a result of hanging using ropes made from bedsheets or shoe laces.

There were four deaths due to smoke inhalation, and three because of a medication overdose.

Ten inmates died in a fight with other prisoners. They were either stabbed with a self-made knife, assaulted with a padlock, or kicked to death.

There was one incident of “official on inmate” death, where officials tried to stop inmates from fighting.

Dereymaeker said there was a need to rethink independent oversight in correctional services.

Overcrowded

Department commissioner Zac Modise said prisons were “in a state”, mostly because of overcrowding and gangs that caused violence.

However, programmes and policies were being instituted to transform the system.

These included policies in line with the Prevention and Combating of Torture Act of 2013, which prevents inflicting mental or physical suffering to get a confession.

The JICS is headed by retired Constitutional Court judge Johann van der Westhuizen. Its purpose is to inspect the country's prisons and deal with complaints related to activities inside prisons.

Its mandate does not include police holding cells.

Read more on:    correctional services  |  crime  |  prisons

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