Prison death - Judicial Inspectorate probing if St Albans at fault

St Albans prison in the Eastern Cape. (Die Son)
St Albans prison in the Eastern Cape. (Die Son)

The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) on Monday said it was investigating the circumstances of a violent scuffle at St Albans Prison Correctional Centre in the Eastern Cape, which left an inmate dead and a prison guard injured.

JICS spokesperson Emerantia Cupido said they wanted to establish whether the inmate's death could have been avoided under these circumstances.

Their enquiry would entail whether any criminal act or negligent conduct could be ascribed to the correctional services department.

READ: St Albans Prison official stabbed in neck, inmate killed: Popcru lambastes correctional services

Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the incident took place on Sunday morning.

"The inmate who initiated the attack has unfortunately passed on following a scuffle with officials. The crime scene has been cordoned off in order to give space to the SAPS to gather evidence and conduct its own investigation. This is an unfortunate incident for the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) as a few months back DCS had to deploy the National Task Team to St Albans in order to stabilise operations at this centre," he said at the time.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) spokesperson Richard Mamabolo said a prison official was stabbed in the neck while the officials and eight others were counting a group of 403 inmates and preparing to feed them.

"Throughout this altercation, the remaining eight officials survived through sheer luck, while the inmate carrying the knife ended up losing his life in the midst of trying to stab other officials. This took place after another female official was also stabbed last week."

Nxumalo said serving of food was done cell by cell and it was therefore a "perpetrated falsehood" that nine officials were looking after 403 inmates.

He said the incident occurred in the "Medium B section and not the maximum facility".

"The maximum facility has remained stable for months following the deployment of the national task team."

Cupido told News24 that the manner in which the inmate was killed would form part of the investigation.

The information they had on hand at this stage was that the inmate was 35 years old and had been serving a sentence, as opposed to awaiting trial or being remanded.

In terms of the Correctional Services Act, a prison official may use a minimum and proportionate degree of force in cases of self-defence, the defence of any other person, to prevent an inmate from escaping and to protect property. 

The department, complying with its obligations in the act, reported a "minimum use of force incident" to the JICS via telephone.

"The investigation will include an onsite visit to the correctional centre, perusing documentation and reports of the incident, interviewing all relevant parties, eye witness accounts and liaising with SAPS and DCS [department] investigators," explained Cupido.

A full report, which would include the findings of the autopsy on injuries sustained and the cause of death, along with eyewitness accounts, would be compiled with findings and recommendations.

Cupido said they were aware of the service that prison officials provided in protecting citizens, as well as the environment in which they had to perform their duties.

"[We] extend our well wishes to the official for a full and speedy recovery."

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