Feebearing - Cape Town - 140626 - Pollsmoor Prison in Tokai area. PICTURE: WILLEM LAW.

For the price of the land, build a brand new combined prison and criminal court complex on a cheaper site, says Mike Wills.

Cape Town - Every weekday morning I sit on the packed M3 northbound and dutifully pull over for the prison vans and their blue-light companions carrying loads of on-trial prisoners into the city courts and every weekday afternoon I do the same again as the accused make their way back to Pollsmoor Prison.

This is a time-consuming and expensive process for Correctional Services and it also opens a daily opportunity for security breaches.

Getting rid of that burdensome daily shuttle is one of many reasons why it makes huge sense for the government to sell off Pollsmoor.

The Cape Argus on Friday reported on a feasibility study requested by the Public Works Department on a possible sale and, while the DA is understandably concerned about the potential for millions to be squandered on such a mega-deal, I hope it goes ahead, provided it is part of a bigger plan.

It always gives me a chuckle to think of convicts occupying 2.5 square kilometres of the most expensive real estate in the Cape and living cheek-by-jowl with the horse riding and golfing set in Tokai and Westlake, but it’s palpably an ineffective use of resources.

Everyone accepts the following – the 60-year-old Pollsmoor is a hopelessly crowded and outdated collection of five prisons with around 7 000 occupants (including nearly 1 000 under 18) in a space designed for 4 000; it is in an impractical location for court appearances; land values are once again rocketing in that part of the peninsula; and a prison on that site costs the city millions in potential rates revenue.

The final factor in this equation is the accident of history which sees our criminal courts situated in places that suit judges and lawyers best and not the standing-trial prisoners.

In an ideal world, and I’m acutely aware that we live in no such thing, Correctional Services and the Justice Department would come together and, for the price of the Pollsmoor land, build a brand new combined prison and criminal court complex on a cheaper site.

The whole thing could be a done as a barter deal with a property company – if they want all that precious Tokai real estate then the price is the land for, and the construction of, the new buildings.

The hidden upsides abound – savings in both Correctional Services and police escort time and petrol, more municipal rates paid, more efficient court time, and, hopefully, better rehabilitation rates among criminals with improved conditions. It might also be possible to flog off the Western Cape High Court building as well, while we are at it.

The lawyers will grumble about the distance to the new courts both from their chambers and from the restaurant where they prefer to dine, but they can just suck that up and load their travel charges.

There is a recent British example to work from. In the 1990s, Belmarsh Prison was built right next to the Woolwich Crown Courts in south-east London specifically for high-security cases to avoid the worrying and expensive trips to court.

Reports indicate that the system is working well and further similar developments are planned.

As for the land for the Cape Town project, we need look no further than the SANDF. At the moment Wynberg Military Base is an eerie wasteland of no discernible valuable use by anyone. The sprawling Youngsfield air base is a reserve option.

Put all of that into action and I reckon everyone wins, including me because I’ll no longer have rushing blue lights up my backside every morning and afternoon.

* Mike Wills’ column Open Mike appears in the Cape Argus every Wednesday.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Cape Argus