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Inmates in court bid to have prison conditions improved

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ZELDA VENTER

High Court Reporter

AN application by six Pretoria Central Prison inmates before the Pretoria High Court to have their prison conditions improved and to ensure they are treated “humanely” in prison has been postponed indefinitely, but the judge said the application was of constitutional importance.

Judge Neil Tuchten asked Legal Aid SA and the Pretoria Bar Council to provide the inmates with pro bono (free) counsel to assist them with their application.

Wouter Viljoen, Stephen Fourie, Jabu Dube, Johannes Lentswe, Kgabu Mosala and Werner Wessels are mostly short-term prisoners serving time for crimes such as fraud and theft.

Many of them also still face other outstanding cases against them.

In papers before court, they raised several issues, claiming prison authorities were failing in their constitutional duties towards prisoners.

They not only bitterly complained about the conditions under which they and others were incarcerated, but also voiced serious concern at what they perceived to be the lack of rehabilitation programmes in prison or sentencing plans for offenders.

Prisoners were merely stuck in jail and the department did not bother to address the problems that had led them to commit crime, they said.

Apart from fighting for their own rights, the prisoners also said the department had an obligation towards the community to ensure that when inmates were released on parole, they no longer posed a danger to society.

In this regard they referred to the case of the Sunday rapist, Jaco Steyn, who again raped women while out on correctional supervision.

In leg irons, the six asked the judge to assist them in launching their application. It emerged that the department had not yet answered their allegations and it was given 15 court days to respond.

Meanwhile, a youngster, told the judge he feared for his life in jail, as he had been raped several times by fellow inmates. He said he had contracted HIV and to date, he had not received any medication or counselling.

He said in court papers that he was forced by the 28 gangsters in prison to join them and they insisted on having sex with him.

The youngster admitted that he had a “serious” drug problem, adding that drugs were freely available in jail.

Lentswe, in his affidavit, said he was being locked up with hardened criminals who “force him to do things he does not want to do” and who threatened to set his cell alight if he refused.

Viljoen, a spokesman for the six, said in a lengthy affidavit that some of them were locked up three to a single cell. There was hardly any ventilation in the cells and they had to have their meals in the overcrowded cells.

He also complained that they were only allowed to walk around in the mornings in an enclosed room used as a gym and they never got any fresh air. They were locked up in their cells from 2pm until 7am, he said.

Correctional Services indicated that it would oppose the application.


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