DA wants prison violence probe

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iol pic sa DA James Selfe_ INLSA DA MP James Selfe. Picture: Damaris Helwig

Johannesburg - Independent investigations are necessary into violence at prisons, the Democratic Alliance said on Monday.

“Prison violence seldom occurs spontaneously and at levels of violence that result in serious injury and deaths,” MP James Selfe said in a statement.

“Such violence is usually a symptom of systemic failures - the absence of good management, the absence of intelligence about what is going on, persistent overcrowding and the dominance of prison gangs.”

Selfe said a thorough investigation was needed, not only by the correctional services department, but by independent institutions or individuals who would provide a report to Parliament.

Last week, 10 inmates were injured in two fights between rival gangs at Pollsmoor Prison in Cape Town.

On Wednesday, a fight broke out in the juvenile section of the prison and inmates were injured. In a second fight the next day, another five inmates were injured.

Correctional Services regional commissioner Delekile Klaas told the Cape Times on Monday that the control of illegal items being smuggled into the prison was behind the fight.

On January 18, a fight broke out in six cells, each with around 38 inmates, at the St Albans prison in Port Elizabeth, in the Eastern Cape. Two inmates were killed and 65 were injured.

On January 7, inmates at Groenpunt Prison in the Free State went on the rampage, torching their cells as well as offices at the facility. Four warders and about 50 maximum sentence inmates were injured.

Correctional Services spokesman Koos Gerber said the department was investigating all three violent incidents.

“We won't have details on the investigations until they are completed. We need to let the investigations run their course, but not waste time,” he said.

“The department wants to ensure comprehensive investigations into the violence. Last week, we heard the investigation into the Groenpunt incident was on track and could take a month.”

Gerber could not comment on the DA's call for independent investigations into prison violence.

Selfe said Parliament's portfolio committee on correctional services postponed a visit to Pollsmoor to “allow the centre (the) opportunity to stabilise the situation and investigate the incident”.

While it was essential to stabilise the situation, it was “deeply concerning” that the committee was hesitant “to discover these conditions 1/8at prisons 3/8 for itself”.

“It is even more concerning that the department is once more investigating itself,” he added.

“The minister has the opportunity to make a significant contribution to dealing with this violence decisively. He must make use of this opportunity.”

Selfe said he had written to Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele asking for an investigation that would ensure the violence did not spread to other prisons. - Sapa


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