Damning new study suggests Western Cape police target the poor

SA police. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)
SA police. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

Wealthy persons are less likely to be remanded and data suggests police engage with people in poorer areas differently than those in the Western Cape's more affluent locations.

These are some of the findings of a study by Africa Criminal Justice Reform (ACJR) and the Dullah Omar Institute.

Some of the more striking conclusions reached in the study state that ''remand detention is disproportionate and increasing in the Western Cape, such that over five years, 10% of adult men can be expected to be remanded'' and that ''the results of this study show that arrest and remand are applied inconsistently across Cape Town, which raises equality concerns.''

Addressing a crowd of individuals from academia, civil society, government and the media on Tuesday, Jean Redpath of ACJR outlined the main findings of her research report titled ''Liberty not the only loss - The Socio-Economic Impact of Remand Detention in the Western Cape''.

The study was aimed at investigating the socio-economic impact of remand detention on accused persons as well as their families and dependents in the Western Cape.

It made use of correctional facility records, visitor records, interviews with visitors to detainees and interviews with detainees between 30 June 2017 and 31 July 2017 at Pollsmoor Remand Detention Facility (RDF) to come to its findings. 

"Remand detention" refers to the process where a person suspected of committing a crime is locked up and held in police custody before conviction and sentencing.

Suspects are, in specific cases, allowed to pay for their freedom before trial in the form of bail but their ability to do so is dependent on their socio-economic status.

Some of the conclusions reached based on the research, include the following:

  • The burden of visiting and making up for lost income and other contributions fell predominantly on women.
  • The reports states ''the court, suburb and police station profile in the visitor data suggests that the poorest suburbs are not as prevalent in the visitor data. This suggests the wealthiest are not remanded, while the poorest are indeed remanded, for less serious offences such as drug offences, and that their families unable to afford to visit…''
  • Some 60% of the overall Pollsmoor Remand Detention Facility (RDF) population are there for non-violent offences.
  • More than half (of the above) are detained from only six police stations.
  • According to the study: "Some 98% of the in-custody drug possession cases come from only four courts: Cape Town, Mitchells Plain, Athlone and Wynberg Magistrates' courts."
  • The study continues that ''more than half of detainees came from arrests in only two policing areas: Cape Town and Mitchells Plain. This is strongly suggestive of targeted policing and prosecution in those areas''.
  • Another finding in the study is that ''the level of remand detention in the Western Cape is higher than in the rest of the country".
  • The increase in remand is so great that trends suggest that ''...every decade, another facility the size of Pollsmoor Remand would need to be built to accommodate the increase in remand population in the Western Cape''.

Police in the Western Cape have most recently drawn the ire of South Africans, particularly on social media, after Esethu Mcinjana was arrested after taking selfies in Sea Point, Cape Town.

The 23-year-old was forced to spend a night in jail, despite protesting her innocence.

Western Cape police have since launched an investigation into the incident, with News24 reporting Brigadier Novela Potelwa as having said that police are committed to upholding the constitution and are expected to abide by the SAPS code of conduct, which speaks to treating everyone humanely.

"If any police official is found to have transgressed any of the aspects cited above, decisive action will be taken.''

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