We've got news for you.

Register on TimesLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Prison protests over virus a mask for criminal activity: correctional services

22 April 2020 - 19:24 By Naledi Shange
Correctional services blames recent protests at prisons on efforts to rid them of contraband, even though prisoners have raised concern about the coronavirus. Stock photo.
Correctional services blames recent protests at prisons on efforts to rid them of contraband, even though prisoners have raised concern about the coronavirus. Stock photo.
Image: Pixabay/Ichigo121212

The department of correctional services says recent unrest at prisons, where inmates have voiced concern over how the coronavirus pandemic would affect them, was an attempt to mask criminal activity happening behind bars.

Department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said in a statement on Wednesday that during the lockdown, prison officials had intensified efforts to rid prisons of contraband  and this was not always welcomed.

“This came as a result of security operations aimed at removing contraband from all cells in our centres, thus leading to ... threats of violence by a few individuals purporting to be representing the interest of offenders,” said Nxumalo.

“Correctional services is more than determined to clean and remove all forms of contraband in its centres. This has been a subtle bone of contention, thus leading to the perpetuation of chaos in some of our centres. Such chaos is then disguised as a coronavirus scare and a protest over lack of preventive measures.”

Unrest was reported at Baviaanspoort, Krugersdorp, Worcester and Leeuwkop prisons this week. Videos circulated online showing fires, allegedly started by prisoners.

It was alleged that the call for prisoners to take action was spurred by a prison activist

“What remains fundamental is that a push by offenders to undermine the state is something that can never be tolerated. Hence an internal investigation is under way into the burning of a few mattresses at Krugersdorp, Worcester and Leeuwkop correctional centres. Unruly behaviour will result in consequences,” warned Nxumalo.

“Burning of state property is a criminal offence. We will leave no stone unturned in making sure that all those involved in such acts of criminality are brought to book and the law takes its course,” he added.

SowetanLIVE reported earlier that prisoners had embarked on a protest demanding toiletries and better food during the lockdown, as well as medication. Videos showed an inmate being dragged on the concrete floor by a prison warder during the unrest.

A family member of one of the inmates, who spoke to SowetanLIVE, said the prisoners were not fighting anyone but wanted to be provided with necessities for bathing.

“Since they are no longer allowed visitors as a result of lockdown regulations, they wanted the prison to provide them with facewash towels, soap, roll-on, a proper diet and to be given their medication,” he said.

“They were having a peaceful protest when the prison called the police. As a result, two of the inmates were injured.”

But Nxumalo maintained that with the lockdown in full force and visitors not being permitted into prisons, officials were succeeding in rooting out crime.

“The possession and use of mobile phones and other gadgets by offenders are of serious concern. Such items are going to be confiscated and removed from centres — rapidly. The limited movement has meant that the security officials are able to conduct targeted searching exercises. As a result, confiscated items have little room to find their way back into the cells,” he said.

Nxumalo added that as they rooted out crime they were also exposing corrupt prison workers.

“These operations have also made it possible to identify areas where unscrupulous officials have a direct hand in the smuggling of contraband and the net is closing on them,” he said.

“We will not hesitate to take action against rogue elements in the department who collude with offenders to undermine security in our centres by enabling contraband to be smuggled. To date, several investigations are under way to attend to officials who have been implicated in these rogue activities.”