SA needs prison torture laws

2011-11-30 22:37

Cape Town - South Africa urgently needs laws that criminalise torture in its penal system if it is to prevent the type of abuses the country was chastised for by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, prison activists said on Wednesday.

Chronic overcrowding, an entrenched gang culture and under-staffing in the 241 prisons has made the transformation of its correctional system a difficult task.

"Having a crime of torture would assist authorities to recognise acts of torture and to initiate proper investigation of torture with the diligence, impartiality and competence that is required by international law," said Amanda Dissel, local delegate of Geneva-based Association for the Prevention of Torture at parliamentary hearings.

Currently the Correctional Services Act does not refer directly to a prohibition on torture or ill treatment, and guards may use minimum force to quell violence or subdue troublemakers.

Mechanical restraints and segregation of prisoners are also allowed as long as certain provisions are followed.

But the use of various pieces of equipment in prisons came under fire from anti-torture activists, who want to see a ban on electro-shock belts, stun shields, stun batons and leg irons.

"The use of this equipment runs contrary to international norms and standards and has no place in modern-day correctional institutions," the Institute for Security Studies said in a written submission.

Most prisoners in Africa

Some of the devices, such as the electro-shock belt, can deliver a shock of up to 50 000 volts and cause seizures and heartbeat irregularities, the institute said.

South Africa, which at the end of March this year held 160 545 prisoners and ranked number one on the continent for having the most people behind bars, was found to have violated international statutes after a prisoner lodged a complaint following an incident in 2005 at a maximum security prison.

The testimony of Bradley McCallum, who filed the UNHRC complaint in 2008, makes for chilling reading and helped expose the treatment meted out at times in SA prisons.

"The warder then requested that [McCallum] remove his pants and forced him to the ground, which caused a dislocation of his jaw and his front teeth. In the corridor, there were about 40 to 50 warders in uniform... They beat inmates indiscriminately and demanded that they strip naked and lie on the wet floor...," McCallum wrote in his complaint.

In September and in response to the UNHRC's findings, the department of correctional services said it would re-open an investigation against implicated officials.

According to the International Centre for Prison Studies, South Africa ranked no 9 globally for the number of people in jail, just behind Iran.

The judicial inspectorate for correctional services, a statutory body monitoring prisons, said in its latest annual report that unnatural deaths had dropped to 48 from 55 last year but highlighted a worrying trend in the number of homicides implicating officials.

"The overall impression gained is that when officials beat prisoners to death, investigations are slow, disciplinary charges minor and criminal prosecutions unlikely. The net result is a culture of impunity," said a submission by the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative.

  • Cracker - 2011-11-30 23:17

    The experts will know more about the technical aspects and how to ensure the integrity of electronic recordings. Let us in this country remove all doubt about what takes place between the public (citizens of all classifications) and the state (in all its manifestations and officialdom) by simply recording it easily as technology permits. As far as I know the technology is available and nowadays cheap. If I can buy a digital camera at a reasonable price - considering that I am not the fiscus and will never have to face multi-billion claims and other costs - and set it up then surely other more advanced technology and safeguards must be available to the state. We need more stringent monitoring of our state interactions with the public. Laws specifically against torture? OK. Fine. But it is puzzling why abuses are not coverable by our present laws. The real problem is defective monitoring. No police vehicle or question sessions involving suspects should be allowed with proper electronic monitoring.

  • Cracker - 2011-11-30 23:22

    Correction: No police vehicle or question sessions involving suspects should be allowed withOUT proper electronic monitoring. Added: The measures will also protect law enforcement officers and prison officials against false accusations.

  • TheWatcher - 2011-12-01 06:41

    Do we need torture laws? Yes, but don't take away the guards rights and tools in the process. In the end these inmates are dangerous criminals and people tend to forget that. Cracker also made a good point about using electronic monitoring.

      John - 2011-12-01 13:12

      not to much worried about what happens to inmates,before we look at these new laws lets try and enforce the laws on the outside first.

  • dave.j.colquhoun - 2011-12-01 08:36

    When I looked at the headlines for this one made my heart beat a little faster. I thought they were considering a new law to make torture in our prisons compulsory. Now there's a thought for you. Perhaps if they did that, then we could award prizes to the warders who come up with the most innovative and painful methods. By allowing torture in prisons, we, on the outside, can all rest assured that those criminals who find themselves behind bars will certainly think twice before committing another crime when they get out.

  • Fenderbender - 2011-12-01 10:18

    Yes make it more pleasant inside the prisons, but outside chaos is acceptable . Prisons is hostels for criminals while the real citizens struggle to keep afloat.

  • ludlowdj - 2011-12-01 10:29

    As a democratic country we should not have to enact laws in respect of torture in prisons, our government and penal system employees should already be above that sort of thing.........but I suppose we cannot expect much better from the ANC or the thugs running our legal systems and in any event we are not really a democracy in the true sense of the word either.

  • christo.stoltz - 2012-03-05 14:43

    Bring back the death penalty for one. Child molesters, rapists, murderers, hijackers and any violent crimes should be punishable by death! We have a penal system that is not working - and it all boils down to "basic human rights". Pathetic.

  • leonardus.breedt - 2012-03-05 14:54

    How many of us have people inside.First they push the new people in side with the gangsters.A person go in for a small crime and the gangsters have him or her.There is no human rights in side.This is why a person join a gang to half protect him or her self. Abuse's is the only format in side.This why when that person came out he or she is worst of in the real world.

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