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Swift action needed on jail deaths

Image: 123rf/ Allan Swart

The killing of a female warden, and the rape of another, allegedly by an inmate at Goedemoed Correctional Centre at the weekend, once again highlights the danger prison officials work under behind prison walls.

Nomsa Joyce Stuurman, 35, was allegedly stabbed in the neck with a pair of scissors by the inmate, who allegedly also raped another after they were held hostage for about three hours.

Police said the prisoner, who was busy with cleaning duties, forced both women into an office and locked himself inside with them on Friday afternoon.

The incident has left staff members traumatised, and justice and correctional services minister Michael Masutha has instructed national commissioner of correctional services Arthur Fraser to ensure trauma counselling to affected employees.

This is one of the many such incidents that happen at our prions, and the government is not seen to be acting decisively to arrest the problem.

Masutha understandably wants answers, but he should also come up with solutions before more lives are lost in prisons.

The families of the two victims deserve answers. Whoever is found to been on the wrong side of the law should be arrested.

While Masutha denies that the incident might be as a result of overcrowding, this is a problem at many South African prisons.

Equally, shortage of staff is a problem. But it's encouraging that Masutha is doing something to address the problem. He has instructed his training colleges to increase the intake of learnerships from once to twice a year, saying it will assist in "beefing the number of boots on the ground and alleviate staff shortages".

While we are worried about lives lost behind prison walls, we can't ignore the fact that these attacks and killings are bound to happen as long the government does not addressstaff shortages and overcrowding.

About two years ago at St Albans Prison in the Eastern Cape, 33 prisoners attacked guards in the dining hall, leaving three inmates dead and 13 injured.

A few months later, two prison warders were stabbed. The prison was said to be 42% overcrowded.

We hope the latest incident will drive Masutha to act swiftly to address the problem.

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