South Africa: Private Prisons a No-No, Says Committee

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The Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services has made its views clear on the establishment of more private prisons in the country.

Speaking during a Committee Meeting, the Committee Chairperson, Mr Vincent Smith, said: "You can leave here knowing that the sentiment of the Portfolio Committee is that we are not in favour (of such outsourcing)."

The meeting received a briefing on the state of correctional services in the country from the Minister of Correctional Service, Mr Sibusiso Ndebele, who Mr Ndebele told the Committee that the Department now had doubts about the effectiveness of private contractors running prisons.

He was referring to allegations of torture and brutality made by employees at Mangaung prison, in the Free State. Mangaung, and Kutama Sinthumule prison, in Limpopo, are the only privately operated prisons in the country.

Employees allege that prisoners were forcibly injected with anti-psychotic drugs and subjected to electroshock therapy. The Department of Correctional Services took control of Mangaung early last month after a hostage-taking incident and labour unrest.

The multi-party Portfolio Committee made it clear that outsourcing should be reconsidered. Chief Deputy Commissioner of incarceration and corrections Mr James Smalberger said: "At the institution, we have almost 3 000 offenders and you have one person there that is assigned to do certain things."

Mr Ndebele also said the two privately-run prisons were very expensive and were expected to cost the state about R20bn over the 25 years of the contract.

Mr Smith said over the 25 years of the contract - which ends in 2025 - R800m would be spent on the two prisons each year, meaning that the total bill would be close to R20bn. "We (South Africa) could have built 18 prisons for that amount of money. Is there a need to look again at this issue?" Mr Smith asked.

Acting National Commissioner of Correctional Services, Ms Nontsikelelo Jolingana, said the public-private partnerships had not been carefully thought through and the Cabinet had decided not to proceed with four other private prisons.

Mr Ndebele added that the private prisons were an experiment that did not work. In the UK, where private prisons were pioneered, he said "They are coming to a similar conclusion that they do not work very well."

Committee Member Mr James Selfe said a controller from the Department was supposed to monitor the situation in private prisons. "What was the controller doing at Mangaung?" he asked. Ms Jolingana replied that allegations against the controller were part of the broader investigation into the private prison at Mangaung.

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