Cape Town - The control of illegal items – including drugs and cellphones – being smuggled into Pollsmoor prison is at the root of bloody battles that broke out between rival gangs there on two consecutive days last week.
This is according to Delekile Klaas, the province’s correctional services department’s regional commissioner, who said 10 inmates were injured, one of them stabbed 21 times, during the attacks.
The first fight broke out between rival gangs in the juvenile section of Pollsmoor on Wednesday and five inmates were injured.
In a second fight the next day another five inmates were injured.
By Sunday one inmate remained in the intensive care unit at Groote Schuur Hospital and a second, who had undergone a few operations, was in Somerset Hospital.
Three inmates were in Pollsmoor’s hospital wing.
On Sunday Klaas said the main reason behind the fights was control of what was being smuggled into the prison. “We’re looking into where these items come from.”
Klaas said some officials, a minority, could be working with inmates and this was also being looked into.
On October 10 last year, a Pollsmoor warden was arrested for trying to smuggle two packets of tik, a packet of unused straws, 23 dagga sticks, two cellphones, five SIM cards and a cellphone charger to prisoners.
Klaas said this warden had been dismissed last week.
He urged citizens not to assist in smuggling illegal items into the prison.
Klaas said last week’s fights were between rival gangs, the 26s and 28s, in the juvenile section where 40 inmates were held.
“Most of them come from Khayelitsha, where they already belong to gangs... Some come from Bishop Lavis where they are Americans.”
The inmates had used whatever objects they could as weapons.
A team was monitoring the situation and Klaas said gang leaders had been identified and placed in another area, and the two rival gangs had been separated.
“When I went to see them in person and asked why are you fighting, all of them agreed that the moment you tell the truth you’re in trouble (with your gang),” he said.
The Pollsmoor attacks are the first in the Western Cape following violence in the Groenpunt prison in the Free State where a riot broke out on January 7 and clashes erupted between prisoners and warders on January 16.
Ten days ago at the St Albans Prison outside Port Elizabeth three inmates were killed and scores injured when a gang fight broke out.
The Pollsmoor fights prompted the Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services to urge the correctional services department to deal with inmate fights.
“The department must come up with strategies to eradicate gangsterism as it is becoming a cancer in prisons,” the committee’s chairman Vincent Smith said.
The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services 2011/2012 annual report said there were 236 correctional centres around the country housing 158 165 inmates. Western Cape prisons had a 142 percent occupancy rate