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Johannesburg - The chief executive of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (Jics), Adam Carelse, has been placed on special leave amid allegations of misconduct, possibly including sexual harassment.
Jics is a legal oversight body that monitors and reports on prisons and inmates’ rights throughout the country.
On Monday, two high-level officials of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) visited the Cape Town head office of the inspectorate for a meeting with Carelse.
They then called all staff to the boardroom and told them that Carelse was being placed on special leave following allegations of misconduct by staff members. No further information was provided.
Jics director Mike Masondo has since been appointed acting chief executive.
The simmering conflict first came to light when the parliamentary portfolio committee for correctional services visited Jics’s offices in April. Several staff members shared their concerns with the MPs.
Committee chairman Vincent Smith said: “We heard very serious allegations, ranging from sexual harassment to employment conditions. We advised the employees to speak to their superiors and to submit letters of complaint to the relevant authorities.”
The employees asked for a private meeting with the portfolio committee members. This took place on May 8.
The portfolio committee then sent a letter detailing the allegations to Vuka Tshabalala, the inspecting judge for Correctional Services, who heads the inspectorate. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela was also informed of the situation.
The inspecting judge then briefed the national commissioner for correctional services, Tom Moyane, as is required by law.
Moyane dispatched the two officials, one of whom was Teboho Mokoena, the chief deputy commissioner for human resources at the DCS.
“We first had a consultation with Mr Carelse. He was shocked, but he took the matter (seriously), and he understood and respected the request from the national commissioner that he (Carelse) take special leave until the investigation into the allegations has been finalised.”
Mokoena said a person would be appointed to carry out the investigation, but it is not clear if that will be someone from within the DCS or an external person.
“It is critical we get to the bottom of this. At the moment we are unable to confirm the allegations related to sexual harassment. Mr Carelse, therefore, remains innocent until we finalise this investigation.”
The Public Protector has given the DCS 60 days to respond to the allegations.
The prison oversight body and the department it is supposed to monitor have been embroiled in a dispute about their mandate for several months. At the heart of the matter is the independence, or lack thereof, of the inspectorate.
Jics is entirely financed by Correctional Services and falls under the DCS’s human resources and disciplinary procedures. But the entity is also supposed to monitor and report on any wrongdoings at DCS prisons.
The Detention Justice Forum, a collective of NGOs working in the field of criminal justice, referred to this uneasy power relationship in a media release it issued following the news of Carelse’s special leave.
“Jics is a crucial part of the DCS accountability system and was established… as an institution that is meant to be operated separately and independently from DCS.”
Calls to amend the legislation in this field have mostly gone unheard.
On May 22, Judge Tshabalala and Carelse complained before the portfolio committee on correctional services that the DCS had blatantly ignored Jics’s reports about prison riots, deaths and torture in prisons.
Mention was also made of severe accommodation and funding problems for Jics. The Durban office, for example, does not even have a fax or network printer, while the DCS has underspent R894 million in the 2011/2012 financial year.
“There are no links between this healthy discussion and the allegations of misconduct against Mr Carelse. If you want to address Jics’s independence, then the law has to be amended first. As it stands, we have correctly followed the disciplinary procedure set out in the Correctional Services Act,” Mokoena said.
* Ruth Hopkins is a journalist for the Wits Justice Project