Packed jails hamper drive

In areas where crime is very high, overcrowding in some prisons can reach as high as 200%. / Dudu Zitha.
In areas where crime is very high, overcrowding in some prisons can reach as high as 200%. / Dudu Zitha.

Overcrowding in prisons will make it difficult for the government to implement "Mandela Rules", which were adopted by the UN.

The rules set minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners and were adopted in December 2015 by member states of the UN.

Yesterday, in Cape Town, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha said cabinet had approved the Mandela Rules in March and they would be launched in July.

The minister said the rules did not specifically prescribe occupancy levels but in general terms overcrowding militated against the delivery of effective services to inmates. The rules endorsed the principle that prisoners be treated humanely and were accorded all their rights to proper nutrition, exercise, access to education and training, and so on.

"We do need to consider upfront that the continued challenge of overcrowding presents as a serious challenge," Masutha said. He stressed the need for South Africa to address its high level of crime, especially in Western Cape, where there had been a huge upsurge in violent crime.

South Africa has a prison-bed capacity for about 119 000 prisoners, which is sufficient for the sentenced prisoner population of about the same number. However, there is an overpopulation of prisons when remand prisoners were taken into account.

As at April there were 163114 inmates in the country's 243 correctional facilities, of which 117820 were sentenced offenders and 45294 were remand detainees. Overcrowding nationally is in the region of 37% but in some prisons in areas where crime is very high, overcrowding can reach as high as 200%.

Masutha said the challenge of overcrowding was being addressed through a multipronged strategy which included the strengthening of diversion programmes, alternative sentencing, creating additional bed spaces, better management of the parole system and the promotion of successful social integration.

The biggest challenge was dealing with remand prisoners as it was difficult to plan for them as their numbers and length of stay could not be predicted. For example, there had been a huge influx of about
4000 remand prisoners in Western Cape over the past three to six months, which had placed enormous pressure on an already critical situation.

Masutha said new facilities had been constructed to increase the number of prison beds and other facilities had been expanded.

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