2012 a year of uprisings by SA prisoners
Conditions in South African prisons remain poor, with inmates becoming increasingly frustrated with their treatment, the 2012/13 annual report of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Centres (JICS) has found.
The report was tabled in Parliament last week.
"The inspecting judge [of prisons] characterised 2012 as a year of uprisings by inmates in correctional centres," the report said.
"While gangsterism in correctional centres can be seen as a major contributing factor, amongst others, we cannot ignore that inmates have become frustrated with their conditions and treatment in correctional centres."
There was a decline in the overall number of deaths in prisons from 852 to 709, but the decrease only applied to natural deaths.
"The number of unnatural deaths reported has increased from 48 to 57, which is of great concern to the Inspectorate."
Most unnatural deaths are as a result of suicide, followed by incidents where the cause of death has not yet been determined.
Nineteen inmates hung themselves, nine were murdered by fellow inmates, six overdosed on drugs and three committed suicide by setting their cells alight.
The Inspectorate conducted 39 investigations, of which 21 were probes into allegations of serious human rights violations.
Modderbee in Gauteng came under investigation five times for assaults, gang-related violence and suicides.
Gang violence at Groenpunt in the Free State, St Albans Prison in Port Elizabeth and Pollsmoor in the Western Cape -- where dozens of inmates were injured in January this year -- was also investigated.
"In respect of the allegations of violence we have found that officials acted beyond the scope of their authority and lacked the necessary judgement and characteristics when trying to quell the inmate uprising and gang-related activity," the report said.
In addition, Independent Correctional Centre Visitors (ICCVs) received thousands of complaints from inmates.
The number of complaints of officials assaulting inmates grew by 73 percent, while complaints of inmate-on-inmate assaults went up by 56 percent from the previous year.
"This occurrence can be attributed to the ill-discipline of officials and/or inmates which militate against the safe custody to which inmates are entitled," the Inspectorate found.
"It furthermore infringes upon the spirit of rehabilitation which is one of the core functions of the DCS."
Overcrowding remains a huge concern, despite the prison population decreasing from 158,165 to 153,049 between March last year and this year.
"We note that the sentenced offender population decreased by 7144. By contrast the number of remand detainees increased by 2082."
The country's prison infrastructure was still not adequate to accommodate the number of inmates housed in jails.
"The ideal number of inmates in relation to our current accommodation should be reduced by at least 25 percent..."
Inmate health care continued to be a major concern.
A survey conducted during the 2011/12 financial year revealed 38 percent of inmates were not examined within 24 hours of admission, 29 percent were not informed of their right to health care, and 54 percent did not receive immediate treatment.
"It is the view of the Inspectorate that the department [of correctional services] has not taken the findings and recommendations of the said report into account."
Democratic Alliance MP James Selfe said the report showed that "all is not well in South Africa's prisons".
"It also shows the urgent need for the immediate implementation of Section 49G of the Correctional Services Act which limits the period of incarceration for remand detainees to a maximum of two years," Selfe said.
"The effective enforcement of this section could successfully address the concerning upward trend in the number of remand detainees held in our prisons."
Selfe said inspecting judge Vuka Tshabalala should explain the report to Parliament's portfolio committee on correctional services.
The DA would also call for Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele to appear before the committee to explain what his department was doing to improve the situation inside the country's jails.
"Although prisoners have committed offences, they are still guaranteed basic human rights that need to be protected. What is needed now is a clear analysis of the JICS's findings, and a definite strategy by the minister to turn the situation around."