Fashion police will see red as prisoners go yellow
The fashion police will be none too pleased but awaiting-trial prisoners in Mthatha, in Eastern Cape, will this morning start wearing uniforms just like those of convicts - but in a ghastly yellow.
Correctional Services was quick to say that the yellow overalls were on probation and their wholesale introduction was not certain.
Correctional Services Deputy Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi's spokesman, Mahlodi Muofhe, suggested that the project launch at Mthatha prison this morning was a masterstroke.
The idea was to help identify remand detainees and prevent them from escaping.
"We are not saying, by giving remand detainees a uniform, that they are guilty.
"And it will be unfortunate if people think along those lines [and claim violation of rights by putting people in a prison uniform before their conviction].
"In most instances [remand detainees] have no visitors and so are stuck in the same dirty clothes. Some people are on trial for years ."
The uniforms, which will be manufactured by prisoners, will not be worn during court appearances.
Nicholas Taitz, a constitutional law expert at law firm Knowles Husain Lindsay, said the move seemed "rational".
"Even if the remand detainees' uniform was the same as that of the convicts, it's still not violating any rights because it's not affecting a fair trial, and I'm not sure it's affecting anybody's dignity either.
"They are legitimately under the custody of the state while awaiting trial."
James Selfe, the DA MP and spokesman on prisons, said the new uniforms were a good idea because they gave remand prisoners the dignity they deserved.
"We insist only that none of them makes a court appearance, or is seen wearing the uniform in public. That would infringe on their right to being innocent until proved guilty."
Prison regulations say that "appropriate clothing" must be provided by the state if the detainee needs it .
Golden Miles Bhudu, president of the SA Prisoners' Organisation for Human Rights, said the introduction of the remand prisoners' uniform was long overdue.
"For the past 15 years we have been raising this issue and we are relieved that our call has finally been heard," Bhudu said.
Wits Justice Project co-ordinator Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi said the money spent on the uniforms could have helped in tackling other issues affecting detainees.
"There are huge gaps in terms of what should be done for remand detainees, like screening inmates for TB and making sure the disease is eliminated from our facilities."