Computers in cells for SA inmates

(iStock)
(iStock)

A court application by Boeremag members could result in prisoners throughout the country being allowed to have a computer in their cells.

Lets Pretorius (71) and his sons Johan (45) and Wilhelm (39) Pretorius asked the Pretoria High Court in April to find that the policy of the correctional services department on formal education programmes is discriminatory because they are not allowed to have computers in their cells.

The three were given life sentences in 2013 after being convicted of treason and conspiracy to commit murder.

They are serving their sentences in the Zonderwater prison in Cullinan. Wilhelm is studying theology, Johan biblical and ancient studies and Lets is studying political sciences, all three through Unisa.

Court papers say the prisoners have access to computers in a designated study room between 9am and 2pm with limited internet access.

They can download study material and take it to their cells later.

But the applicants say that because of strikes in the prison and breakfast being served late, they have lost 52 hours of studying time in two months.

And if computers are allowed in their cells, they can study at any time.

The correctional services department argues that allowing computers in cells poses a security risk.

“It would be easier for prisoners to smuggle a modem into their cells, allowing them access to the internet. This could allow them to make contact with criminals outside and conduct criminal activities from jail.”

However, the court ruled that the government has a duty to ensure access to higher education for all South Africans, including prisoners.

“By not allowing computers without modems in cells, the department’s education policy discriminates against the applicants,” the court ruled. “The applicants may use their personal computers without modems in their cells for as long as they are registered students.”

Professor Ann-Mari Hesselink, affiliated with Unisa’s department of criminology and security sciences, said prisoners’ rights regarding access to education are not applied consistently, which was why some students in detention are objecting.

Students in prison are also struggling to gain access to study material and supervision because of limited internet access,
she said.

“Further studying is extremely important for prisoners’ rehabilitation and prisons should make it as easy as possible for them to study,” said Hesselink.

“However, it is so that access to computers and the internet makes it easier for some criminals to contact syndicates outside the prison and to plan further crimes.”

– Elaine Krige, Rapport

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