DURBAN 28102013
some of the items that were seized in Westville Prison recently, 
Picture: Jacques Naude
DURBAN 28102013 some of the items that were seized in Westville Prison recently, Picture: Jacques Naude
DURBAN 26102013
Mnikelwa Nxele, with some of the items that were seized in Westville Prison recently
Picture: Jacques Naude
DURBAN 26102013 Mnikelwa Nxele, with some of the items that were seized in Westville Prison recently Picture: Jacques Naude

Durban -

A series of major raids by prison authorities at Westville prison has netted nearly 1 000 cellphones, drugs, porn movies, hand-made weapons and even household appliances, with authorities saying there is anarchy in the facility which is the most overcrowded in Africa.

The raids in the Medium B Correctional Centre were to find a gun that warders thought was being hidden in the jail but which they have not been able to locate. Last month prisoners handed in five bullets they found in a cell, prompting the crackdown.

On Monday KwaZulu-Natal Correctional Services regional commissioner, Mnikelwa Nxele, said phone chargers, DVD players, more than a thousand dagga straws, 402 Whoonga straws, sim cards and rope, used as part of a pulley to move goods from cell to cell, were also recovered.

Nxele said they had been smuggled in by corrupt officers and the public during visits.

Twelve warders have been suspended and security dramatically beefed up.

“There is a group of officials who have lost all sense of why they became public officials in the first place, and members of the public who are running a drug syndicate with the prisoners,” he told the media on Tuesday.

From now on visitors and warders would be extensively searched before they came in contact with prisoners, he said. Medium B has approved accommodation for 2 137 prisoners but, up until the middle of this month, accommodated 4 205 putting the facility under enormous strain.

Its current population is 3 406, with 835 prisoners moved in recent days to less crowded facilities.

 

Nxele said the confiscated cellphones, some still ringing during Monday’s press conference and all protected by passwords, were to be sent to police forensics, and the other items burnt.

The DA’s Correctional Services spokesman James Selfe said he had first-hand experience of the problems in Westville, as prisoners often called and SMSed him late at night.

 

“It is shocking, as this is supposed to be a secure facility. Contraband does not just appear, it needs to be brought in,” he said.

The haul of contraband demanded a “thorough investigation”, he said.

“It will be put on the agenda of our portfolio committee and will require the KwaZulu-Natal regional commissioner to come and explain to us this appalling breach of security.”

Derrick Mdluli, the head of the NGO, the Justice for Prisoners and Detainees Trust, said: “The question we need to ask is, who is involved? They need to start looking into members (warders), as they must be involved.”

 

Nxele said the searching of visitors’ “private parts” would now also become standard.

“It has come to my attention that female visitors were complaining that they were being abused by officers who touched them on their privates parts, but, after finding that some were caught with items such as phones and drugs stuffed in their private regions, it has become a necessity,” he said.

Correctional service officers, including himself, would be searched on entering the facility.

“As public officials, they are supposed to be setting a good example to the inmates, but instead they are sneaking in DVD players so the inmates can watch ‘blue movies’. This should not be happening. I am ashamed of what has been happening,” he said.

Nxele said to curb corruption and monitor visitors, the public would have to book visits to see prisoners in advance.

“From November 9, people requesting to see family members or their friends will have to call and make an appointment so we know what time they will come and we can ensure that the visitor will contribute to the reintegration of the offender back into society,” he said.

 

Jacques Sibomana, spokesman for the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, said: “The raids are a good thing, as the wardens are being proactive about trying to prevent more crime from happening inside the prisons. However, they need to look at the prison system as a whole.

“Raids alone won’t be enough, they need to look into how this happened.”

 

The Mercury