24 October 2012

South Africa: MPs Warn of Inhumane Prison Conditions

Photo: Glenna Gordon
Prisoner's hands on the bars in his cell (file photo): Inhumane conditions in South African prisons are making the department of correctional service vulnerable to legal action, MPs say.

Cape Town — Inhumane conditions in South African prisons are making the department of correctional service vulnerable to legal action, MPs said on Wednesday.

Parliament's portfolio committee on correctional services said it remained unconvinced that the presence of Independent Correctional Centre Visitors (ICCVs) were making any difference in prisons.

ICCVs are meant to engage with inmates and monitor conditions in correctional facilities.

The judicial inspectorate for correctional services told MPs the country had 214 ICCVs, who catered for 160 000 inmates.

"It's not practical, and physically impossible for them to do what is required of them," committee chair Vincent Smith said.

Smith and fellow MPs lamented the fact that rehabilitation and care programmes were not working, resulting in the entire country being left unsafe.

"You can't have a safe South Africa if those that come out of our facilities come out as worse people," Smith said.

He said prisoners did not come out worse because of who they were, but because they were abused and dehumanised at facilities meant to rectify their behaviour.

Speaking on the sidelines of the briefing, Smith said MPs would possibly look at reviewing legislation to give ICCVs more teeth.

Currently ICCVs could only bring concerns to the attention of correctional centre heads, and had to rely on officials to take action.

"These people (ICCVs) are never visible; inmates don't have faith in them and they rely too heavily on the department to take action."

Smith said despite the ICCV system being in place, inmates were still subjected to serious overcrowding, a lack of medical care and torture.

"Unless we change the role of ICCVs, there will come a time when a court case against the department will be fast and furious," he said.

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