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No reports of prison riots despite lifers’ threats to bring prisons to standstill‚ says department

03 July 2017 - 16:09 By Graeme Hosken And Katharine Child
Justice Minister Michael Masutha.
Justice Minister Michael Masutha.
Image: Gallo Images

The Department of Correctional Services say they have had no reports on any prison riots despite threats by ‘lifers’ to bring the prison system to a standstill over a five year long wait to apply for parole.

However‚ Times Media has received reports of prisoners in various prisons refusing lunch on Monday. The department has also admitted to dealing with a huge parole backlog due to a staff shortage of qualified social workers to assess parole applications.

Prisoners told The Times that at St Albans in the Eastern Cape‚ life prisoners known as 'lifers' with a life sentence have stopped the kitchen serving food to other prisoners.

In Groenpunt‚ 'lifers' are allegedly refusing to leave their cells and didn't eat their bread served at midday. In Westville prison‚ Leeukop prison North of Johannesburg‚ Losperfontein correctional facility in Brits‚ and Barberton prison in Mpumalanga some lifers refused food on Monday.

One prisoner in Johannesburg said: "We are tired of trying to play nice with the department. We have jumped through all the legal hoops that we needed to."

Spokesman for the Department Logan Maistry said the department had been contacting correctional centres around the country but had no reports of riots.

Prisoners started rioting at the Pretoria Central Prison on Sunday with reports of one officer injured and a prisoner injured.

Maistry said the prison in Pretoria is now calm and said the injuries sustained were minor.

Prisoners serving a life sentence told The Times they would bring the prison system to a standstill over delays for parole applications.

Prisoners sentenced before 2004 are able to apply for parole after serving 12 years and 4 months of their sentences. Those sentenced after that have to serve 25 years before qualifying to apply for parole.

Maistry said the Department of Correctional Services "has acknowledged challenges" with parole backlogs‚ and has "publicly communicated on this matter"‚ including holding a media briefing hosted by the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services‚ Advocate Michael Masutha.

He said one of the problems with parole is that there are not enough social workers employed by the department to assess if prisoners serving life sentences qualified for parole.

"Unfortunately‚ the combined lack of reports from Social Workers and Psychologists as well as outstanding restorative justice interventions were cited to be the main reasons why submission of profiles to Parole Boards are delayed.

"The department has embarked on a project to fill these vacancies for qualified staff‚ and about half of these vacancies have been filled. In certain circumstances‚ offenders are transferred to centres where such services by Psychologists and Social Workers are available."

He also said that the National Commissioner recently requested Task Teams to be set up to manage the backlogs of cases for parole consideration.

He also noted that of the 1‚124 parole applications from life prisoners reviewed since 2014‚ only 291 - about 30% - are released on parole and complete their sentences at home.

This means even prisoners who apply for parole may not get it

Maistry added that: "While it is understood that offenders have the right to raise concerns‚ it cannot be acceptable that they disrupt operations without any consequences. Safety and security is of paramount importance‚ and will not be compromised."

- TimesLIVE