28 January 2013

South Africa: Independent Investigation Necessary Into Prison Violence

press release

Serious prison violence has now occurred in at least three correctional centres (Groenpunt, St Albans and Pollsmoor) in as many weeks. The Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services visited Groenpunt, and was to visit Pollsmoor, but the latter visit has been postponed "to allow the centre (the) opportunity to stabilise the situation and investigate the incident."

It is of course absolutely essential that the situation is "stabilised". Prisons must be places of order and discipline, for the safety and good management of inmates and staff alike. In particular, we empathise with the staff in the institutions affected for the conditions under which they are required to operate, which often involves exposure to violent, gang-involved inmates and remand detainees.

It is deeply concerning, however, that the Portfolio Committee is hesitant to discover these conditions for itself, and it is even more concerning that the Department is once more investigating itself.

Prison violence seldom occurs spontaneously and at levels of violence that result in serious injury and deaths. Such violence is usually a symptom of systemic failures: the absence of good management, the absence of intelligence about what is going on in the cells, the abuse of power, the flouting of prison regulations and procedures, persistent overcrowding and the dominance of prison gangs.

It is therefore essential that a thorough investigation is undertaken not only by the Department, but by an independent institution or individual(s), and that the report of this investigation be made available to Parliament promptly and in full.

I have accordingly written to the Minister of Correctional Services to request him to institute such an investigation. Rigorous introspection, the identification of shortcomings and the rectification of failures will ensure that prison violence does not assume the characteristics of "rolling mass action" by spreading to other prisons.

The Minister has the opportunity to make a significant contribution to dealing with this violence decisively. He must make use of this opportunity.

James Selfe, Shadow Minister of Correctional Services

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