Prison overcrowding breeds gangsterism

13 November 2014 - 02:20 By Bianca Capazorio

South Africa's prisons are overpopulated by more than 30%, leading to increased gang violence and poor health management.

This information was disclosed by officials of the Department of Correctional Services during their briefing of the parliamentary portfolio committee on correctional services.

The committee heard that, although prison overcrowding had dropped from 164% in 2002, prisons were still on average 32% overpopulated.

This posed security risks and limited the department's ability to guarantee the constitutional rights of prisoners.

Last year there were 152 205 prisoners - about 45000 more than the system was designed to accommodate.

Overcrowding led to inmate tension and violence, increased risk of the spread of disease, impaired ability to deal with complaints and a rise in gang activity, the department's chief operating officer, Nontsikelelo Jolingana, said.

Correctional Services deputy chief commissioner James Smalberger said that between 18% and 20% of 41000 remand detainees could not afford bail, adding to prison overcrowding.

Department figures showed that 43 escapes and 6884 assaults were recorded in 2012 and 2013.

The committee heard that the surveillance systems currently in use, installed in 2005 at a cost of more than R200-million, were now obsolete.