Damning report on SA prisons

Mvuyo Mati

Mvuyo Mati

South Africa's prisons are in a mess, Dennis Bloem, chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on correctional services, has warned.

The committee in August visited prisons in East London, Middledrift, King Williams' Town and St Albans.

According to Bloem, many serious problems were identified at the prisons visited.

He said there were 5113 more prisoners detained in the four prisons than they were intended to hold.

Bloem said the ratio of warders to prisoners at the prisons was as high as one to 83. In addition, he said, 1876 people - innocent until proved guilty - had been detained in these prisons for more than three months awaiting trial.

Bloem singled out Middledrift Prison as on the verge of collapse.

"The portfolio committee is of the opinion that - from head office to regional office to area management level - there is no involvement in running the correctional centre."

He said facilities at the prisons were not conducive to the rehabilitation of criminals.

Bloem said prison warders were under extreme pressure and were working under difficult conditions.

"Gangsterism is rife at St Albans, where a prison official was stabbed to death by an inmate," he said.

Bloem said prison warders and the public often smuggled drugs, weapons and other illegal substances into the prison.

"Some of the inmates were very dangerous - and very wealthy. They easily enticed poorly paid prison warders into corruption," he said.

Bloem said that to ease prison overcrowding the Department of Correctional Services and the Justice Department should consider alternative sentencing.