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Cape Town - The SA Human Rights Commission has agreed to look into the legal implications of installing CCTV cameras in prisons.
Commissioner Lawrence Mushwana said it was a matter of life and death after members of Parliament’s correctional services oversight committee asked for an opinion on whether prisoners’ right to privacy outweighed the rights of inmates who were raped after lockdown when no officials were around to protect them.
Committee chairman Vincent Smith said they had been advocating for such a system for a long time.
Meriam Phaliso (ANC) shared the story of a young relative of hers who had been arrested for a petty offence and remanded. He was raped and later died.
Mushwana said the commission had not taken a position on the issue, but the Lindela repatriation centre had such a system. “Where there are fights, you zoom into that incident,” he said.
The commission’s view was that the rights of prisoners had to be weighed against the rights of the community.
“Fourth generation” rights meant the government had a duty to ensure any public space “where me and you can find ourselves” was safe.
Expressing his personal opinion, he said the issue was not something that should be rushed but, “if you look at the consequences that are happening every day in our prisons, it’s something that should have been done yesterday”.
Children were being arrested for petty offences and raped and their lives “doomed”, creating more criminals.
He said the government had a responsibility to make sure that people could be reintegrated into society when they emerged from prison.
“What preparations are we making in and outside so that in the event, which is certain, that these people come out, they can be accommodated in society?”
The commission would debate the question of installing CCTV cameras, research what was being done in other jurisdictions and share the results with the committee.
Judith Cohen, who presented the commission’s work on prisoners’ rights, said it was an issue “where one can’t give a straightforward yes or no”.
But the time had come to “bite the bullet” and explore the options, “because certainly, when a person is sentenced to go to prison, the judge doesn’t add ‘and you’re sentenced to be raped on your first night’”.