Court: Inmates must get proper healthcare

2012-12-11 22:32

Johannesburg - Prison authorities have a duty to minimise disease transmission, the Constitutional Court ruled on Tuesday.

The court ruled that Dudley Lee be granted leave to appeal a decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), which had overturned a finding by the Western Cape High Court in his favour.

Lee claimed that poor prison health management resulted in his tuberculosis (TB) infection, while he was remanded in Pollsmoor Prison, Cape Town, between 1994 and 2004.

“The matter is of importance, not only to the parties, but also to other inmates and the health sector generally. It is thus in the interests of justice that leave to appeal should be granted,” said Judge Bess Nkabinde in her majority judgment.

“It is indeed so that prisoners are amongst the most vulnerable in our society to the failure of the state to meet its constitutional and statutory obligations,” she said.

Nkabinde found TB control at Pollsmoor depended on effective screning of inmates, isolation of infectious prisoners, and proper medical care. This had not been implemented.

The SCA had found that while the state was negligent, Lee could not prove this negligence had caused his infection - a test Nkabinde said was too rigid.

Judge Edwin Cameron, in a minority judgment, found that because TB could not always be immediately diagnosed in a large prison, prisoners would always face some risk of contagion.

Lee "seeks development of the common law affecting a vulnerable group to whom our system of constitutional protections owes particular solicitude," he said.

The country itself had an interest in developing a prison system in which disease was minimised, he said.

Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said the judgment had been noted.

“The department of correctional services has noted the court ruling and is studying the judgment, which highlights the fundamental issue of overcrowding in correctional centres in South Africa," he said.

Of the approximately 150 000 inmates in South Africa, more than 44 000 - or 30% - were remand detainess.

A national colloquium had been held last month to discuss prison overcrowding. A report on this issue was expected early next year.

"We are working hard towards action, and improvements, in our correctional system," he said.

"In 2013, we are continuing discussions with the judiciary, and other stakeholders, towards finding solutions to South Africa's high rate of incarceration and breaking the cycle of crime."

Advocacy groups Wits Justice Project, the Treatment Action Campaign, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, who had been admitted as amici curiae represented by Section 27, hailed the outcome.

"This is a landmark case that highlights the state's responsibility for ensuring that the constitutional rights of detainees are mandated and safeguarded,” they said.

"In the absence of adherence to known protocols and procedures, TB and HIV will continue to spread through our prisons and to the rest of society.

"The need for properly ventilated cells needs to be enforced, as does the need to find solutions to the chronic overcrowding in our prisons."

The judgment was a major step forward for campaigns to ensure prisoners' rights to healthcare and dignity were respected, including through adequate measures to prevent and treat TB.

They called on the department to take immediate steps to remedy the “horrendous” conditions to which prisoners and awaiting trial detainees were subjected.

“This is a matter of the utmost importance for human rights and public health.”

  • - 2012-12-11 22:52

    Bring back the death penalty and the numbers will decrease. There are too many excuses for human beings being kept alive by people that hate them. Then they still complain about everything.

      crracker.crackerr - 2012-12-11 23:10

      But for the grace of god there go I. Or something like it. We all detest crimials, especially the ones who murder, inflict bodily harm and torture others. But don't trust the current legal system with your proposal. And hope that you will never have to endure the pain of either yourself or your dearest being subjected to the cruelty of a system which more and more resembles the criminal elements we do not wish on our society. Rather count your blessings.

      Jack - 2012-12-11 23:23

      “It is indeed so that prisoners are amongst the most vulnerable in our society to the failure of the state to meet its constitutional and statutory obligations,” Man, it is really good to know that the next criminal that tries to kill you and rape your wife and by a slim margin gets apprehended and locked up is really "one of the most vulnerable in our society! Now I can sleep better at night.

      shaun.miekle - 2012-12-12 09:22

      They desrve what they get. Let them rot in jail

      andrie.langa - 2012-12-12 11:08

      wise man!!!u suck,may be u seeking for new job as executionaner?

  • - 2012-12-11 22:55

    Before passing judgements and ordering compliance know

      xola.mduma - 2012-12-11 23:22

      I just wish to know the good cause of this.Are you aware that all these thugs are taking South African prisons as caring,warm and comfortable place to stay at.And you bring the health care issue. Also the underprivileged in this country will see it as a better place to be.In that way there'll be a high increase in crime.The unemployed dn't get such privileges as much as criminals in this Country. Crime doesn't pay..Hell no...!it does pay in South Africa

      crracker.crackerr - 2012-12-11 23:28

      It's a mess.

  • marc.vaneldonk - 2012-12-12 01:53

    I can understand the emotions of people. Thugs should be behind bars. But ..... suppose, you get a ticket for speeding, and they give you an injection of TB instead. Same ... or am I wrong ? Certainly. It should not be a four star hotel. but if all rules and protocols are followed, inmates and their lawyers do not have the opportunity to abuse the system against itself.

  • trudiroos.potter - 2012-12-12 05:10

    Send them to state hospitals. If it is good enough for people on the street, it is good enough for them!

  • Karin Dewet - 2012-12-12 06:21

    I dont care if they are vulnerable they are all there because they committed a crime. It costs the average citizens a lot of money to keep them there.They can rot in hell for all I care most of them are rapist and killed innocent people

  • nerinek - 2012-12-12 06:50

    what's surprising is that no court has said that our state hospitals should get better... so who's more important here?

  • Colabaypee - 2012-12-12 07:13

    WTF what about the elderly, the poorest of the poorest out in our streets that needs free health care desperately. The prisoners are there for a reason let them rot in jail.

  • eland.snitbul - 2012-12-12 07:22

    “This is a matter of the utmost importance for human rights and public health.” , did they regard human rights as important when they committed the crime? I still don't understand why someone who never respected someone else human rights should have his protected. Bring back the death penalty, prisoners problem sorted and less money spent on criminals which could be used to solve poverty.

  • truthbetold221 - 2012-12-12 07:24

    It's probably wrong to say, but having been a victim of their crimes I feel they shouldn't live in the first place. Again, I know It's wrong.

  • bless.boswell - 2012-12-12 07:39

    Well said. Government employees should also be made to go there, including the president.

  • bless.boswell - 2012-12-12 07:41

    From your lips to God's ears

  • roy.wadhams.1 - 2012-12-12 08:10

    "You do the crime you do the time" and any other problems suffered while you are incarcerated. They do no hard labour while inside and live better and eat better than many on the outside. I know of one person who lived the rich life as a broker was caught and spent two years in jail "teaching" inmates how to use a computers but never did one day of manual labour. Why are they not paying for their crimes?

  • Sakhiwo - 2012-12-12 08:32

    Tjo to be an Awaiting Trial Detainee for 10 yrs that alone speaks a lot.Therefore our Judiciary/Justice system should also be held accountable.

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