The department of correctional services says it is concerned about “reckless mendacities” forwarded to the media to instigate disruption inside correctional centres.
This was in response to City Press’ story published on Saturday regarding inmates at the Johannesburg Correctional Centre, better known as Sun City, who said they were living on the edge and sleeping with one eye open at night, as they claimed the department of correctional services was not concerned about their welfare.
The prisoners said they were living in fear of contracting the Covid-19 coronavirus.
A voice note recording by a female prisoner was circulated among prisoners in different prisons in Gauteng, where she complained about the health and safety of prisoners at Sun City.
City Press is in possession of the audio.
The agitated prisoner alleged that prison officials were not concerned about prisoners’ safety in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
This lack of concern, she said, forced her to speak up in the hope that her voice reached President Cyril Ramaphosa.
The department’s spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo, said there was no substance or truth to what the inmate had said in the recording.
He bemoaned the voice note and said: “The voice note circulating was recorded by a female inmate whose criminal record and habitual behaviour will take many by surprise if it were to be made public.”
“The inmate who recorded the voice note has been charged more than nine times for different transgressions inside our centres. She has been found with contrabands and referred to the disciplinary committee,” he said in a statement.
With regards to the fear of the spread of Covid-19 in the correction centres, Nxumalo said the department was mobibilising resources in the fight against the pandemic.
“Our approach is focused on prevention, containment/treatment and disaster recovery. The department activated Infection Prevention Control (IPC) measures at all management areas with specific directives to ensure that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is availed and has pushed for the sanitation of reception areas, cells, offices, vehicles and ablution facilities.”
“Johannesburg Correctional is part of the big five centres in the country in terms of inmate population; it would be impossible not to give it attention,” he said.
In the recording, the inmate alleged that a juvenile inmate who had tested positive for Covid-19 had subsequently been put into isolation at Sun City.
Nxumalo said there had been no solitary confinement in their correctional centres, but “inmates are at times isolated for different reasons and such is never a permanent feature”.
He added that correctional services have been “very transparent, and provides updates on the situation on the ground”.
“No positive cases of the coronavirus have been reported in correctional centres thus far. Officials who travelled abroad have been screened and further instructed to go for testing. They are not allowed to report for duty until medical results are received. Correctional services is leaving nothing to chance.”
He went on to say that medical screenings were done according to the guidelines issued by the department of health. “This is also done by health care practitioners and it is not as comedic as explained by inmates,” he said.
In the recording, the female prisoner cried out about how awaiting trial inmates were burning things in their cells in protest at not having been able to go to court since lockdown started.
In response to this, Nxumalo said: “Movement of inmates has been limited to an extent that court appearances are done through the Audio Video Remand system. We have hospitals inside centres; only complicated cases are then referred to outside hospitals. Searching and subjecting our officials to security scrutiny continues in order to prevent contraband,” he said.
He said correctional services will be working with other security cluster partners to explore and consider different crisis and emergency possibilities “in order to craft appropriate and operationally responsive interventions should the epidemic reach unimagined proportions in the country”.
“We have also procured mobile quarantine sites which will assist to isolate those who may have acquired the virus whilst awaiting to be moved to outside hospitals,” he said.