State vows to clamp down on prisoners who are ‘social media savvy’

2015-08-01 09:27

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Prisons in South Africa are a hotbed of social media users and DStv viewers. 

But now inmates with mobile phones or other devices can expect swift action from prison guards and officials of the correctional services department. 

This is according to Minister for Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha, who was answering a Parliamentary question from the Democratic Alliance on the steps that the department was taking to keep illegal communication devices out of prison cells. 

More than 6500 communication devices – including DStv Walkas, mobile phones and internet modems – have been confiscated this year. 

“Any detainee may at any time be searched and if a cell phone or other communication device is found on him or her, we will take appropriate action. We will take very strong action. Prisoners’ privileges can be taken away and they may face an extended prison sentence,” he said. 

Since the beginning of the year, wardens found nearly 2500 communications devices in cells belonging to prisoners awaiting trial and 4003 in cells of inmates who had already been sentenced. 

In June, Die Burger newspaper reported on prisoners in Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town who had their own Facebook page, and had posted photos of themselves socialising in their cells, wearing fancy clothes and jewellery. 

The correctional services department in the Western Cape seized prisoners’ mobile phones and modems. 

The “Waterkloof four”, who were found guilty of murdering a homeless man in Pretoria, also had a mobile phone in jail, and lost their prison privileges. 

The DA’s Tandeka Gqada, who submitted the question, said prisoners could easily plan crimes from their cells when they had communication with the outside world. 

“It makes the planning of crimes so easy while in jail. Prisoners may also threaten witnesses. The easy access to the outside world is a source of concern,” Gqada said. 

The department has put measures in place, including: 

» An interministerial forum that shares technical information about security in prisons; 

» The searching of visitors before and after they come in contact with prisoners; 

» Cellphone detectors will soon be used in all prisons. Currently they are used at 39 prisons nationwide; 

» Body scanning devices will also be used; and 

» The department has approached the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa about the possibility of blocking cellphone signals inside prisons. 

Johan Burger, senior researcher in the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies, said that gang leaders in particular “manage” their business from their prison cells. 

“Gangs have many members outside prison who can commit crimes or who can smuggle drugs or any other substance or object into jails. Gangs can play robberies and even murders with the help of a mobile phone,” said Burger.

Read more on:    social media  |  correctional services  |  prisons

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