11 December 2012

South Africa: Correctional Services Notes Lee Judgement

Pretoria — The Department of Correctional Services says it has noted the judgement delivered today by the Constitutional Court upholding an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), which overturned the decision of the Western Cape High Court in an action for delictual damages.

The applicant, Mr. Lee, was incarcerated as a remand detainee at Pollsmoor Admission Centre from 1999 to 2004. He was acquitted on fraud and money laundering charges. His lawyers argued that his rights were infringed and violated, saying he contracted TB due to the negligence of prison authorities during his incarceration.

Lee's legal team said his detention was to blame for the infection. They further argued that Lee had been in an overcrowded prison, where many inmates were diagnosed with TB, which posed a serious risk to his health.

Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said today's judgement highlighted the issue of overcrowding.

"The Department of Correctional Services has noted the court ruling and is studying the judgment, which highlights the fundamental issue of overcrowding in correctional centres in South Africa," he said, adding that overcrowding was not only a priority for the department, but also a priority of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster.

In 2005, Cabinet approved the White Paper on Corrections in South Africa which, Ndebele said, represented the final fundamental break with a "past archaic penal system", ushering in an era where prisons became correctional centres of rehabilitation and offenders were given new hope and encouragement to adopt a lifestyle that would result in a second chance at life.

Ndebele said his department admitted offenders as per the order of the court.

"Of the approximately 150 000 inmates in South Africa, more than 44 000 (30%) are remand detainees. Some of these remand detainees have been held in custody for more than seven years," Ndebele said.

To this end, Ndebele said the department hosted a two-day national colloquium on 19 and 20 November 2012 to discuss overcrowding in correctional centres.

More than 170 representatives, from various organisations, including government and civil society, attended the colloquium to discuss overcrowding, alternative sentencing as well as remand detention management as part of solutions to South Africa's high rate of incarceration and breaking the cycle of crime.

The final report on the outcomes and recommendations of the colloquium are expected early next year.

"In 2006, Cabinet mandated the department, through the JCPS cluster, to lead a project of re-engineering the management of the Awaiting-Trial Detention system in South Africa. In this regard, a White Paper on Remand Detention has been developed, and is in the final stages of consultation," Ndebele said.

"We are working hard towards action, and improvements, in our correctional system. In 2013, we are continuing discussions with the judiciary, and other stakeholders, towards finding solutions to South Africa's high rate of incarceration and breaking the cycle of crime."

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