Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai, notorious for overcrowding and gangsterism, is being transformed into a hub for awaiting-trial prisoners.
Sentenced convicts are being transferred to other prisons across the province.
Correctional Services Department spokesman Phumlani Ximiya said that for the past two years, long-term offenders had not been sent to Pollsmoor and those who remained were being transferred to other maximum security centres in the Western Cape.
The Pollsmoor admissions centre, which has accommodated “remand detainees” – awaiting-trial prisoners – for many years, has had an overwhelming intake.
Ximiya said the number of remand detainee prisoners incarcerated had “increased exponentially over the years to such an extent that all the sentenced offenders were removed over time”.
He said the admissions centre took in awaiting-trial detainees while Medium B admitted sentenced offenders.
“This is a long-standing practice for almost four years to date.”
The removal of sentenced offenders from Pollsmoor’s admissions centre and the gradual removal of staff who ran rehabilitation programmes for convicted inmates had been a gradual process since 2007.
Many of these staff members and inmates had been moved to other prisons.
Ximiya added that Pollsmoor would continue to house remand detainees and sentenced offenders facing further charges.
“Medium B shall house sentenced offenders and Medium A shall house young offenders.”
No additional buildings and extra renovations would be necessary as a result of the separation of inmates but they could be needed as part of maintenance of the facility, Ximiya said.
DA correctional services spokesman James Selfe said that in the past, awaiting-trial detainees had been kept in the same facilities as sentenced prisoners.
This was “less than ideal” because of the influence of gangs, who were able to recruit new prisoners.
“Along with international best practices, they’re trying to separate remand detainees from sentenced prisoners because their needs are different and the programmes they have are different – and even the design of the facilities they occupy would need to accommodate those changes.”
He said sentenced inmates were being moved to Drakenstein, Malmesbury and other facilities.
Another factor was that Pollsmoor was near courts.
Overcrowding would always be a problem and the awaiting-trial section was at least 300 percent over capacity. “We had people literally sleeping on the floor, people pushing beds together to make room.”
He said that it was during the periods of gross overcrowding that repeat offenders “had a field day” with awaiting-trial detainees.
“That is why we need to have people with specialised skills who know how to deal with remand detainees and people who are arrested for the first time… (specialists) who can understand the dynamic and recognise the problems,” Selfe said.
Golden Miles Bhudu from the SA Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (SAPOHR) said the organisation had been campaigning for the change for a long time.
“When we did research in the US we learned that unsentenced prisoners were kept in county prisons which were in the CBD – in the hub of the city, to create easy access to the nearest court,” he said.
He said recommendations had been made in the 1990s but they had fallen on deaf ears.
“If they’re saying they have another prison in the countryside for prisoners, then we say it’s worthwhile… but what is going to happen is the sentenced prisoners will be transferred into already overcrowded prisons, which could create calamity,” Bhudu added.