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Weapons, cellphones and dagga seized in Joburg jail raid embarrass correctional services, says minister

23 December 2015 - 10:16 By Mpho Raborife

The success of impromptu searches in prisons are an embarrassment to correctional services, Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla said.

"The amount of cellphones that we have found in this hour is a huge success, but at the same time, an indication that we must still do more as the department to reduce the problem," he told reporters during a raid at the Johannesburg Correctional Services centre in Naturena, Johannesburg.

It was part of Operation Vala, which began at prisons countrywide on November 4.

On Tuesday, hundreds of awaiting-trial prisoners and their cells were searched. Bags of dagga, makeshift screwdrivers, daggers, spoons, cellphones, chargers, kettle elements, plugs and home-made weights for lifting were confiscated. A cellphone was found inside an ice cream tub filled with brown sugar.

The searches were intended to find contraband and reduce security risks. Most of the items found were cellphones.

Makwetla said the prevalence of cellphones among prisoners was a major concern as it increased the chances of attempted escapes. Such searches still had to be conducted manually as the department did not have cellphone detection devices. He said this was an area where correctional services needed to spend money. Contraband items recovered were being smuggled into the prison system either by family members or staff, Makwetla said.

"If you want to have safe custody in this country, it is the responsibility of all of us as communities," he said.

As with many sectors of government, there were good civil servants and rotten apples "here and there".

Staff numbers were increased in December as some prisoners were tempted to escape to be with their families. He said prisons around the country were increasing the number of activities, such as sports events, to keep inmates busy.

The number of prison escapees had dropped significantly from 20 years ago, Makwetla said.

In 1995, 1 244 prisoners escaped from prisons around the country, and 49 in the last financial year, he said. "It is not a small achievement. It talks to the commitment and human resources executing these duties."

Source: News24