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Setback for oversight role into prison deaths

By Siyavuya Mzantsi Time of article published Jul 4, 2017

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The Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) electronic system used to analyse unnatural deaths of inmates in custody has been deemed dysfunctional.

As a result, the inspectorate’s ability to perform its oversight role has been affected, according to the SA Human Rights Commission’s Civil and Political Rights report 2016/17.

The report examined key developments around civil and political rights (CPR) in South Africa.

The JICS and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) had an agreement that an electronic reporting system be used to report deaths to enhance the speed of notification.

The commission says the JICS relied on the DCS to send it reports of unnatural deaths so that these can be analysed and feedback provided to stakeholders.

The JICS conducts investigations of deaths and allegations of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment in correctional centres, under the control of the inspecting judge.

The commission recommends that the JICS should have power to institute legal proceedings in its own name and a clear mandate to refer cases to SAPS or the National Prosecuting Authority in cases of criminal conduct by DCS officials.

Yesterday, the inspectorate’s spokesperson, Umesh Raga, said JICS advised the department to report by alternative means, which included facsimiles and e-mails, when the system failed in December last year.

He said they also requested the Independent Correctional Centre Visitors who are stationed in the prisons to monitor that all unnatural deaths were reported.

“While JICS is dependent on the DCS to service our information technology, JICS, subsequent to the breakdown and dysfunctionality, put in alternative measures to ensure we were notified of all deaths in prison,” Raga said.

The electronic reporting was “merely the medium” used to report.

However, Sonke Gender Justice National Prisons specialist Ariane Nevin said the breakdown in the system had a negative impact on JICS’s ability to monitor and report effectively on deaths inside prisons, which was part of its mandate.

“Sadly, JICS currently relies on the Department of Correctional Services for more than just access to reports of unnatural deaths.

"The Department of Correctional Services is responsible for allocating JICS their budget, creating posts for JICS staff and paying their salaries, providing JICS with office space, computers, telephones, etc. All of this has negative consequences for JICS’s ability to perform its functions properly, as the body is too reliant on the DCS, and not sufficiently independent from the DCS to exercise its powers properly, without fear or prejudice,” she said.

Sonke and Lawyers for Human Rights filed a court application seeking amendments to JICS’s empowering legislation to ensure that the body is more independent and effective.

The report, which also looked into prison overcrowding, said the inspectorate had experienced a multitude of administrative and financial obstacles and what it regarded as a lack of responsiveness from the Department of Correctional Services to their requests, reports and recommendations. They were sitting for far too long with draft reports and unanswered queries on serious incidents of apparent violence, torture and even murder.

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