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Durban - A convicted murderer serving his sentence in Westville Prison has won his high court bid to have access to his laptop, printer and modem so he can complete his law degree.
Xolani Dlamini, a fourth-year law student at Unisa, brought an urgent application in the Durban High Court last month against the minister and national commissioner of correctional services.
In his court papers, Dlamini said in March he had applied to the department to be allowed to bring his laptop and a printer into the prison and also requested access to the internet for study purposes.
But his application, which had been recommended by the head of education at the prison’s Medium B section, had not been approved or attended to.
Dlamini, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2001, said the case was urgent because he had already received his study material, but could not study because he did not have the correct facilities.
“I am falling behind in my studies every day. The respondents (Correctional Services) are violating my right to education as I cannot study without the materials.”
Dlamini also asked for set opening and closing times for the prison library and for it to be open at weekends.
The Correctional Services Department had initially opposed the application, but an order was taken by consent last week to allow Dlamini access to the facilities.
According to the order, Dlamini has access to his laptop, modem, printer and memory stick, but the items must be used strictly for study.
His access to the facilities will be monitored and Correctional Services can cancel the approval if Dlamini breaks any of the court order’s conditions.
Commenting on why Dlamini was allowed the facilities, the department said Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele had said prisons should be centres of learning.
“The department is providing an enabling environment for inmates to study.”
In Dlamini’s case he had approached the court before “exhausting all internal processes” to get the equipment and obtain permission.
The department said there was a policy framework, which provided guidelines for prisoners to be granted access to study tools including computers and internet access.
Prisoners were allowed internet access under the following conditions:
Proof from the institution with which a student was registered that access to the internet and computer was integral to his/her studies.
If permission had been sought and granted by the head of a correctional centre for a student to have access, such access would be under controlled conditions.
A dedicated computer room must be identified in which the computer/s would be placed for access by students under the supervision of a dedicated educator or official.
A student must supply the educator or official with the addresses of websites that needed to be accessed so the educator could download the necessary information.
If an offender wanted to use a personal computer, it must be inspected to ensure the software installed would not jeopardise the department’s security and could not be used in his cell.
Use of a personal modem to access the internet was only to be allowed if IT personnel had blocked all websites that might pose security risks to the department and the internet user could only access sites relevant to his/her studies.