Prisoners using coronavirus fake news to try to get out of jail, says Lamola

08 April 2020 - 17:06 By Zingisa Mvumvu
Prisoners are finding ways to get cellphones and circulating fake news about Covid-19, says justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola.
Prisoners are finding ways to get cellphones and circulating fake news about Covid-19, says justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola.
Image: 123RF/Siam Pukkato

Prisoners are spreading fake news about the coronavirus in the hopes of getting early release.

This is according to justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola, who said on Wednesday that the government was looking at many ways to create physical distancing at the country's overcrowded prisons.

Lamola visited the most populated facility in the country, Johannesburg Prison, to observe compliance with national lockdown regulations in response to curbing the spread of coronavirus.

But the minister cautioned inmates against spreading “fake news” about Covid-19 infections in prisons with the hopes of being released.

This while he admitted that it was close to impossible to practise physical distancing in prisons.

“We are also dealing with a lot of fake news because inmates are finding ways to find phones, which they use to communicate fake news. Some of it is influenced by what inmates see happening in other parts of the world where inmates are being released,” he said.

“In this country, fortunately, in December the president [Cyril Ramaphosa] did release some of the inmates to ease the burden but also to respond to a national call.

“As we speak today, we are looking at various options that will enable us to further create an environment that will allow some kind of social distancing in the cells, which is not an easy thing at these correctional centres,” he added.

Some countries have released prisoners, including in Iran, where more than 50,000 inmates were reportedly temporarily released, and some states in the US.

Lamola also commented on measures that government has implemented to contain the spread of the virus at correctional service centres.

These included the ban of inmates receiving cash and other niceties physically from their family members.

Lamola said the ban was in line with the fact that cash was among the ways that the virus was being spread.

To this end, Shoprite Money Market services were being looked into to get cash to inmates, he said.

“Inmates used to receive accessories from family members but since we have closed the visits of family members, we have to devise a means of how the inmates can receive some kind of cash that will enable them to buy from the tuck shops inside,” said Lamola.

“Cash can also be a transmitter, so now they can only do it through a deposit in the financial service institutions like Shoprite.

“And maybe this should be a permanent solution.”

Lamola said “screening and testing” was being intensified at all prisons in the country after a confirmed case at an East London-based correctional services centre.


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