Official report into Bloemfontein prison reveals alleged mistreatment of inmates

A long-awaited official report into conditions at the Mangaung Correctional Centre in Bloemfontein, stated that inmates were assaulted by staff, forcibly injected with medication and locked in a cell without a toilet, lighting, windows or ventilation.

Following an almost six-year long legal fight, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) received the results of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) investigation into incidents at the prison while it was controlled by private companies G4S and Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts (BCC) in 2013, GroundUp reported.

In a statement, CALS attorney Sithuthukile Mkhize said the centre was "considering pursuing further legal challenges as well as a review of privately run prisons in South Africa".

The centre said "the investigation seems incomplete" and did not draw sufficient conclusions.

The report listed four categories of findings: on security, health, nutrition and staff. Incidents were linked to the parts of the Correctional Services Act or other laws which might have been broken. A detailed BCC response was attached to the report.

One of the incidents involved an inmate who sustained injuries "as a result of being assaulted by officials" and the report stated that management did not follow the required processes that would allow officials to use force.

BCC responded that there were no visible injuries and that the company had received approval for the use of force by the controller (a member of staff appointed by DCS) and expected this to be correctly reported to the inspecting judge for correctional services. BCC proposed more direct reporting procedures.

'Dark room'

Another incident related to a cell without a "toilet, lighting, windows, or ventilation" which the DCS called a "dark room" in which inmates were held and one person died.

According to the report, while the department approved the room, it was not supposed to be used in such a way.

BCC denied that there was such a room and mentioned a "quiet room" which the company said had lights and ventilation but had not been used since 2008. The death was a suicide, BCC said.

Other security-related incidents included the use of taser guns and rubber bullets without proper procedure and training. DCS detailed incidents of violence between inmates, improper segregation of a prisoner and one alleged hostage situation, during which prison management did not "take the necessary steps to ensure a safe environment".

BCC countered the various accusations.

READ: We were tortured by prison officials, prisoner tells Gauteng High Court

The report also mentioned several incidents of prison healthcare staff "forcibly injecting inmates with anti-psychotic medication" in 2010 and subsequent years.

BCC said the company was "unable to respond meaningfully" to the allegations because they did not have the documents or information, such as patient records and pharmacy profile reports, which DCS used in the report. BCC said it had no reason to believe it was forcible and "evidence suggests that this was not the case".

Other healthcare-related allegations included a failure to keep records, falsification of records, oversupply and overdose of medications, and delayed issuing of medicines. In response to the last point, BCC said further training and improved processes would be undertaken. There were also reports of the appointment of untrained staff and unsuitable meal plans and eating utensils for inmates.

BCC said some of the incidents took place earlier than 2013 and that many of the DCS' concerns "were dealt with by BCC appropriately at the time they arose".

ALSO READ: Inside the deadly Goedemoed Prison hostage situation: Security breaches, claims of brutal attacks and a planned killing

Court papers stated that the incidents took place in that year, but the DCS report itself did not state a particular window of investigation.

The prison was taken over by DCS in October 2013 but returned to BCC and G4s management in August 2014. The investigation was completed in this time and the report was dated late June 2014.

DCS said it "intends to exercise its rights in terms of the contract in relation to the findings of the investigation" but it was not clear whether any action had taken place. There was no response to GroundUp's request for comment on this point at the time of publishing.

In a statement to GroundUp, G4s said "BCC acknowledged that while some operational improvements could be made, there was no evidence to substantiate any claims of mistreatment".  It described the Mangaung prison as "an exceptionally well-run maximum security prison" and said there was ongoing oversight and management by DCS staff.

G4S reiterated that it did not impede the release of the investigative report but joined as an interested party to protect the confidentiality of people named.

GroundUp received a redacted version of the report from CALS which excluded the names and identifying factors of prisoners and staff, including health workers.

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