Detention staff are struggling to cope, the standing committee on social development in the Western Cape provincial legislature was told. Picture: Ross Jansen
Cape Town - Racial conflict, bloody gang fights, inappropriate relations and mothers smuggling drugs inside in nappies.

This is the situation at Western Cape government’s youth care facilities where drug addicts and awaiting trial juveniles are housed.

Officials from the provincial Department of Social Development painted a grim picture to members of the standing committee on social development about the violence and at times difficult circumstances staff work under. There are seven detention centres across the province housing about 680 juveniles.

Director for facilities management Leana Goosen said staff work under tremendous pressure, but manage to keep children safe. Recently, about 20 senior staffers received training from the Department of Correctional Services on control and restraining.

“We have the support of this department. Our in-house emergency task team is also helpful because whenever we call the police, it aggravates the situation.”

DA MPL Mireille Wenger raised concerns about the possibility of juveniles escaping while ANC MPL Maurencia Gillion expressed unease about gang violence.

Goosen said the gangs are never split up.

“We mix the gangs in different rooms, because there should always be a balance and by doing this it helps to create less conflict. We also try to curb the fight for power.

“The ringleaders are always placed together and by doing so we take their attention away from the gang activities in the centre.

“The gangs you may get outside are the same gangs we see inside our centres. There is also always a link between a child who is in a gang (at the centre) and an older uncle or even father who is also a leader in one of the prisons,” she said.

Goosen said there are constant fights between black and coloured children.

“There are many instances where coloured and black children fight each other. This is racially driven and it is difficult to manage at times.”

Gillion said the department should look at more programmes that promote social cohesion. “This is a very serious matter. We need to address it and ensure that racial conflict is rooted out.”

Goosen said there were cultural events are offered at the centres, but it would take more than an intervention from the department to address the problem.

“We need a societal change. We can do everything in our power, but society needs to make a change. The communities should also speak about this,” she said.

Goosen also mentioned the investigation into an alleged inappropriate relationship between a staffer and an inmate.

She said some female staffers wear an “unattractive” uniform to curb the possibility of inappropriate relationships.

“Our girls will almost do anything to get to our male staffers. But there is a uniform in place, a very, very unattractive one,” she said.

“There were 15 dismissals in the past three years and some of it relates to transgressions against children,” Goosen said.

Committee chairperson Lorraine Botha brought attention to the lack of parental involvement.

Goosen admitted that the situation with parents was unsatisfactory.

“They hand over their parental responsibilities to us. Some are not involved at all. There was an instance recently where a parent smuggled drugs in a baby’s nappies for her older child. That is the type of situation we have to deal with.”

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Cape Argus