Prison staff join gangs

2005-09-29 14:19

Cape Town - Some staff at Pollsmoor, the largest jail complex in the Western Cape, have become members of prison gangs themselves, according to a document compiled by the prison's senior managers.

"Some do it for their own survival inside, or for being intrinsically corrupt and unethical," said the document, compiled at the end of last year as part of a "turnaround strategy" at the prison.

It also said security in the prison was at that stage at a "critical low point", and warned of a possible syndicate involving prison, police and justice department officials in issuing irregular release warrants.

The document, a copy of which had been given to Sapa, said there was an inseparable link in the prison between corruption, bribery, drugs and gangsterism.

"In communities outside, officials get involved with using drugs and alcohol," it said. "The suppliers of these drugs (the drug lords) are, almost without exception, leaders of gangs with connections inside prisons. They regard prison as a potentially lucrative market.

Finding the loopholes

"To fully exploit this market, they need to weaken and corrupt the system and find the loopholes and weak spots. Corrupt, unethical officials as well as financially struggling officials provide them with one such avenue.

"At another level, the immaturity, inexperienced and ignorance of young officials are cunningly exploited by seasoned, streetwise and rich gang leaders."

It said prison managers themselves perpetuate the prison gang culture by exclusively appointing gang "generals" and gang members in positions of authority in the five prisons in the Pollsmoor management area.

Through this, the document said, they reinforce the perception among inmates and gang members, that it paid to be part of a gang.

"Head of centres and unit managers argue that this unacceptable practice contribute[s] to stability in the unit and the centre, particularly in situations where there is a personnel shortage.

Practice 'widespread'

However, it is a fact that these appointed gang leaders and gangsters use their positions to establish, or continue their smuggling network, using the very platform and room that we as management provide them with to do it. This management practice is not limited to Pollsmoor, but is widespread in the region and the country."

Part of the problem, the document said, is unsound personnel practices, in which corrupt, ineffective or lazy officials are not dealt with effectively, but are instead shifted to posts like access control and the front gates of individual prisons.

"These are the crucial places where prevention of unauthorised [activity] should take place."

The document proposes a number of corrective measures, including consultation with the National Intelligence Agency on setting up an effective intelligence network.

It sets a timetable for the changes, the first of which were to have kicked in on January 30 this year.

It calls for a gang-prevention plan, with "zero tolerance" of gangsterism or any gang ritual, and redeployment of management officials not able or willing to enforce this strategy.

X-ray scanners should be installed, and staff on access control duty should also have authorisation to search their colleagues.

A senior correctional services officer in the Western Cape, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Sapa this week that though some of the "hard issues" such as installation of improved security equipment had been implemented, consideration needed to be given to wider questions.

Need for intervention

The official suggested there might be a need for an external intervention plan, and an audit of whether Pollsmoor's management had the capacity to deal with the problems.

"You are sitting with inexperienced top management and people who are in acting positions, so there can't really be commitment," the official said.

Asked to comment on this story, the department's Western Cape office said it would launch an investigation to find out who gave the document to Sapa, and threatened criminal charges against "the people responsible".

It said one of the problems it was facing was an "upsurge of disillusioned members who cannot adapt to change" who leaked confidential and privileged information to the media "without the proper perspective".

On the issue of staff and their relationship to gangs, it said it would not hesitate to charge members found to be involved in corrupt practices.

Recently the department had also been looking at strategies to curb gangsterism in prisons, and intended compiling a training manual for "our younger more inexperienced members".

Considerable strides had already been made at Pollsmoor, where staff tried to keep gang members separate from non-gangsters, to limit their interaction.

"Staff members have been redeployed within the management area to ensure that these reported unhealthy relations between gangsters and staff in these sections [cease] to exist," the department said.

Pollsmoor has 'good security'

It said that as far as improved security was concerned, Pollsmoor was the first of several selected sites in the Western Cape to have had closed circuit television cameras installed.

To curb the trafficking of prohibited substances, the department had introduced a system in which members were not allowed to take bags into prisons, and had banned prisoners from possessing money, instead using a card system which effectively curbed "the exchange of money for trafficking purposes".

Various "vehicles of state" were co-operating in an investigation into the possibility of a release warrant syndicate.

"But due to the sensitive nature of these investigations we are not in a position to respond at this stage," the department said.

The department also said the outdated physical structure of Pollsmoor was not conducive to the "new path" that the department had embarked on, while "dysfunctional systems" had compromised security in more than one way.