According to constitutional interpretation, the State had a duty to create a sufficiently independent and effective prison inspectorate, said Zia Wasserman. Pictures: Brendan Magaar/African News Agency(ANA)

Cape Town - After several delays and postponements, arguments by Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights for greater oversight from the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) will be heard in the Western Cape High Court on Thursday.

Zia Wasserman, national prison co-ordinator for Sonke Gender Justice, said according to constitutional interpretation, the State had a duty to create a sufficiently independent and effective prison inspectorate.

“This litigation is a measure of last resort that follows years of unsuccessful engagement with the Department of Correctional Services by civil society organisations. We believe that the court case is a positive step in remedying the legislative deficiencies plaguing JICS’s efficacy in order to ultimately protect the rights of detained persons in South Africa.”

Conditions and especially the gang nature inside prison was earlier this week highlighted by two accused who were testifying in a murder and attempted murder trial heard in the Western Cape High Court.

One of the two, a 29-year-old who is also a member of the 28s prison gang, said in his testimony that inmates who do not belong to gangs inside prison ran the risk of being continually assaulted or raped.

In September 2015, a massive evacuation of thousands of inmates from Pollsmoor Prison happened after two prisoners died and scores of others were deemed to be at high risk of exposure to infectious disease known as leptospirosis which is carried in 
rat urine.

“Your Honour, outside prison I don’t belong to a gang, but inside in prison I was for my own safety forced to join the 28s gangs in Pollsmoor. And to be part of the gang I got the 28s tattoo. If you don’t belong to a prison gang you stand the risk of being assaulted or raped on a regular basis,” said the accused, whose name is being withheld due to the sensitive nature of his case.

Commenting on the gang culture inside prison Lukas Muntingh, co-founder and project co-ordinator of Africa Criminal Justice Reform (ACJR) at the Dullah Omar Institute at UWC said: “The people who are most at risk are the younger ones who don’t have the financial needs to buy safety and security. If you are not able to defend yourself, you are faced with a difficult decision.

“Gangs are a bigger problem in Johannesburg and the Cape Flats. As much as Correctional Services wants to, I don’t think it is possible to separate prisoners, because of the overcrowding of awaiting trial prisoners. The issue is further compounded by corrupt Correctional Services officers and one has to ask who is smuggling the drugs and cellphones into prisons.”

Department of Correctional Services Western Cape regional commissioner Delekile Klaas said the litigation process is something that will be debated in court and one that the department’s legal team will respond to.

“Gangs are a major challenge for the department. Currently, we are working with the anti-gang unit and our officers are getting training to understand the gang culture. We are also involved in joint operation.

“The drug economy inside prison is very big and this is one of the reasons gangs are continually involved in drug turf fights,” Klaas said.

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