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THE Department of Correctional Services has appealed to the community in KwaZulu-Natal to assist in sending back to jail seven inmates who escaped from the Newcastle and Westville prisons.
The department has been hit by a string of jailbreaks over the past two months. In the two most recent escapes in the province inmates used luxury cars as getaway vehicles after walking out of the prison premises.
Nine suspects made a run for it from Westville Prison. Two were rearrested and one killed.
It's alleged that inmates have formed a sophisticated network with criminals in and outside jails and have also established connections with warders to help them escape.
Provincial Correctional Service spokesperson Nokuthula Zikhali said they were concerned about the jailbreaks. She said they were still investigating how the inmates managed to escape from such secured centres.
"We have noted that in both recent escapes inmates used cars parked outside the prison to get away. We are very concerned about this," Zikhali said.
She said they always had officials posted outside prisons to keep a lookout on all movements but it was hard to judge whether people parking there were acting suspiciously.
"Sometimes people park their cars while they visit a relative. Because of the numbers others have to wait outside," Zikhali said.
She said the four inmates who escaped from the Newcastle Prison overpowered officials who were searching parcels and food brought by the visitors.
"The inmates were aware that their parcels contained weapons and interrupted the search before officials saw the guns," Zikhali said.
"We have instituted a high-level internal probe of circumstances that led to the escapes."
Zikhali said officials had been unarmed while searching parcels in the Newcastle Prison during visiting hours. The inmates retrieved the guns from their food parcels.
"They walked out and fired shots at a car belonging to an official. The official was not aware that an escape was in progress," she said.
Zikhali said an investigation into both escapes were under way.
"We will take the necessary steps if officials are found to have played a role in helping inmates to escape. We urge the community to assist them in ensuring that the escaped inmates are brought back to prison.
"The community should not assist these people in hiding because they are dangerous" she said.
Nine warders have already been suspended at Westville after the escape last month.
The rearrested suspects from Newcastle - Musa Mabe, Ntsikelelo Mathebula and Sihlangu Nzima - were due to appear in the local magistrate's court yesterday but confusion over their transport to court delayed the process.