In December, the two organisations filed an application in the Western Cape High Court, citing the government and the JICS as respondents.
The organisations said that given that prisons are “closed” institutions and largely operate outside the public eye, independent prison oversight was vital to the protection of inmates human rights. Not only does regular monitoring and reporting help prevent abuses inside prisons, it also serves to raise public awareness of detention-related issues and prompt government accountability, they said yesterday.
“JICS is the primary national body tasked with overseeing South Africa's correctional system. JICS’ mandate includes inspecting, monitoring and reporting on the treatment of inmates and the conditions of prisons. JICS’ existence as a functional, independent, and accessible body is therefore fundamental to the protection and promotion of inmates rights.
“Unfortunately, JICS is currently crippled by various practical and political challenges - chief among these being a lack of independence and ill-defined functions and powers - which largely stem from the failings of its empowering legislation, the Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998,” they said.
They said that according to constitutional interpretation, the State has a duty to create a sufficiently independent and effective prison inspectorate.
“Therefore, Sonke is seeking an order declaring that the current legislative provisions regulating JICS - Chapters 9 and 10 of the Correctional Services - are unconstitutional to the extent that they do not guarantee JICS’ independence and capacity.”
Zia Wasserman, National Prisons co-ordinator for Sonke Gender Justice said: “This litigation is a measure of last resort that follows years of unsuccessful engagement with the Department of Correctional Services.
“We believe that the court case is a positive step in remedying the legislative deficiencies plaguing JICS’ efficacy.”