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Call to legalise cellphone use in jails as large number of phones seized at KZN prisons

Prisoners’ rights lobby group has reiterated a call for cellphones to be allowed in prisons, describing the latest seizure of a number of mobile phones at two KwaZulu-Natal prisons as proof that the current ban on the gadgets was a failure.

A stash of contraband cellphones seized from KZN prisons of Qalakabusha and iNcome. Picture: Supplied

Published Jun 27, 2021

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DURBAN - PRISONERS’ rights lobby group has reiterated a call for cellphones to be allowed in prisons, describing the latest seizure of a number of mobile phones at two KwaZulu-Natal prisons as proof that the current ban on the gadgets was a failure.

In addition, the continued ban was responsible for opening up loopholes for the phones to be used for criminal activities since they were not monitored.

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These are the views of the SA Prisoners’ Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr), reacting to the discovery of an undisclosed large number of phones during a sting operation by authorities at Empangeni based Qalakabusha prison and the iNcome prison near Utrecht.

“There is just no stopping these gadgets entering prisons. About 20 years ago, this was a problem in America. At that time, authorities there kept trying to ban cellphones until they accepted defeat. They ended up conceding and legalising the use of cellphones in prisons, said Sapohr president Miles Bhudu.

The use of cellphones should be legalised in South African prisons as well, under the condition that they will be monitored and communication restricted, he said..

Inmates needed to be treated as humans because on release, they are expected to gel with other fellow human beings, Bhudu argued.

KZN Correctional Services spokesperson Thulani Mdluli said illegal entry of cellphones into the country’s jails was a common feature, which the department, working jointly with various law enforcement agencies, was constantly fighting against.

“We have discovered each time cellphones are confiscated that there are members of the public and some of our own officials who are involved in the illegal practice, and have in some cases been able to trace and arrest our own staff and members of the public,” said Mdluli.

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He differed with Bhudu on making cellphone use legal for inmates, saying the country’s Constitution was clear that while prisoners were under rehabilitation, their rights and privileges needed to be limited.

“We accept that we are in a process of rehabilitating them, hence, for example, we recently got a group of some prisoners to build a five-roomed house for some orphans in Weenen, because we are trying to restore a sense of humanity in them,” said Mdluli.

A recently paroled former prisoner, who served 11 years at various prisons across the country, told The Mercury that the smuggling of contraband goods, including cellphones, was nowhere near an end.

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“There is a culture in any jail called “smokkol”. This means that as long as the prison officials are human, they will always need that extra bit of cash. Some prisoners have a lot of money, and are able to bribe officials into smuggling contraband. There have been cases where inmates have been shot or stabbed inside a cell. How do you think those weapons come in?“

In total 293 cellphones were confiscated.

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A stash of contraband cellphones seized from KZN prisons of Qalakabusha and iNcome. Pictures: Supplied

THE MERCURY

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Crime and courts

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