Johannesburg - South African prisons and courts have embraced the use of technology to reduce the risks of ferrying detainees to and from court.
Suspects awaiting trial have constantly been moved from prisons where they are being held to the courts, where they are in the dock for a few minutes before the matter is postponed for a number of reasons.
While some cases are heard in the morning, detainees, instead of being returned to prison immediately after their appearance, spend all day in court waiting for others whose cases are called in the afternoon.
That places a burden on court orderlies whose duty is to ensure that suspects don’t try to escape from the overcrowded cells.
However, the Correctional Services and the Justice and Constitutional Development departments have introduced the audio video remand (AVR) system to ensure that detainees do not have to leave prison for court unless they absolutely have to.
The system is similar to the technology used in cases involving child victims, who testify through a video link fed live to the courtroom so they don’t have to face their attackers.
With AVR, suspects are held in a prison room that has been turned into a makeshift courtroom, complete with a miniature dock equipped with microphones. Hovering in the background is a prison warder who jots down remand dates and brings in detainees for their hearings.
A network link is then established between the court, where the magistrate, interpreter, prosecutor and lawyers are, and the prison room. Once the system is working, the matter proceeds.
Only accused who are older than 18 whose matters are pending trial are eligible to use AVR.
Zodwa Mtsweni of the Department of Correctional Services said many detainees were transported to courts daily merely for the purpose of a postponement of their case, for further investigation, legal representation or other quasi- administrative reasons.
Since the introduction of AVR, there had been a reduction in expenses related to detainee transport, security officials guarding the detainees and money used to feed them at court during lunch, Mtsweni said.
“The accused person is, therefore, not required to be brought physically before the court in such instances, but may appear before court via audiovisual link, unless the court, in the interest of justice, directs that he or she be brought physically before it.”
Gauteng police spokesman Brigadier Neville Malila said they were 100 percent behind the system.
“The project minimises the possibilities for escapes en route (to court) as well as during appearances,” he said.
In October 2012, three detainees died when an explosion rocked a police truck that 36 of them were travelling in from court. Investigation later revealed that the explosions were part of an escape attempt.
Two of the escapees were later captured.
Courts that use system
* Boksburg Medium A Prison is linked via video to the magistrate’s courts in Germiston, Joburg, Palm Ridge and Boksburg.
* Johannesburg Medium A prison is linked to the magistrate’s courts in Joburg, Hillbrow, Orlando, Protea and Randburg.
* Krugersdorp Prison is linked to the magistrate’s courts in Krugersdorp and Roodepoort.
* Modderbee Prison is linked to the magistrate’s courts in Tembisa and Kempton Park.
* Kgosi Mampuru correctional centre is linked to the magistrate’s courts in Pretoria, Pretoria North, Temba and Ga-Rankuwa.
* The prison in Vereeniging is linked to the magistrate’s courts in Vereeniging and Sebokeng.