Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)
Picture: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)

Correctional Services unions, organisations worried over prison Covid-19 infections

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Jul 1, 2020

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Cape Town - Correctional Services unions and organisations are deeply concerned about the spread of Covid-19 infections among officials and prisoners in the country’s prisons.

Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in the department was more than 2 300, “consisting of 1120 officials and 1228 inmates. Active cases are standing at 643”.

Nxumalo said 23 deaths had been recorded, with the Western Cape recording 11 and the Eastern Cape recording six.

Public Servants Association (PSA) spokesperson Reuben Maleka said the association represented more than 13 000 employees of the department, and were troubled by the recent outbreak at some of the correctional centres in the country resulting in the transfer of offenders to various centres.

Maleka said offenders demanded to be tested, adding: “Despite continuous talks to arrange for testing, this has still not been approved.

“PSA’s continuous requests to implement a reduction of staff per shift to limit the spread of Covid-19 among officials and offenders have, along with other proposals, been ignored by the department.”

He said that had resulted in numerous correctional centres confirming positive cases and a shortage of staff as employees who came in direct contact with infected persons were quarantined.

“The PSA also proposed that a second layer of defence be implemented in shift patterns to ensure that if an outbreak occurs, the prison will not be short-staffed and further compromise employees’ safety and increase the risks of escapes,” Maleka said.

He said the Justice and Correctional Services minister, Ronald Lamola, should understand that a reactive approach to the spread of Covid-19 in the centres would not save the lives of officials or offenders.

“The minister needs to work on proactive solutions that should be implemented immediately by simply releasing offenders on parole; the onus is on communities to care for parolees.”

Maleka said with an unemployment rate of more than 30% and communities still struggling to recover from the impact of the lockdown, it would only be a matter of time before those parolees returned to crime to sustain themselves.

SA Sentenced and Awaiting Trial Prisoners Organisation chairperson Phindile Zweni claimed that while inmates were dying, the department dragging its feet “due to the fact that members tasked with the parole boards don’t want to come to work because they are scared to have contact with inmates”.

He also alleged that the parole board members were refusing to put their lives at risk because prisons management did not give them and inmates the required protective equipment.

SA Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights president Golden Miles Bhudu demanded an immediate and speedy release of all the unsentenced and qualifying prisoners and a mass-reduction of those who would remain behind bars, warning of rolling mass action in the coming weeks to September - “when we are told the virus will be at its deadliest peak”.

Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services spokesperson Emerantia Cupido said the Department of Correctional Services had specific measures in place to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

Cupido said the challenge experienced was the overcrowding of many centres that made other preventative measures such as physical distancing not just difficult, but practically impossible.

“It was announced that the parole of some 19000 inmates would be brought forward, but this is a slow process which includes various factors for consideration, and therefore relatively few inmates have been released thus far,” Cupido said.

She said there also seemed to be an influx of detainees arrested for Covid-19-related offences, further exacerbating overcrowding.

@SISONKE_MD

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Cape Argus

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