Cape Town - A groudbreaking plan to crush the province’s thriving prison gangs is being rolled out, with gangsters now being profiled and their anticipated activities behind bars reviewed before they even set foot in a jail cell.
The initiative, the first of its kind in South Africa, comes as prisons around the province have been put on high alert after the end this week of one of the country’s biggest gang trials, in the Western Cape High Court.
Security assessments are being conducted in respect of each of the 17 gangsters convicted in the case, which focused on 28s gang kingpin George “Geweld” (Violence) Thomas, to determine where they should be jailed.
They will be placed where they are least likely to be able to stir up violence or recruit members into the prison numbers gangs.
On Wednesday, Thomas was handed seven life sentences, along with a string of other lesser sentences totalling 175 years, for carrying out murders or ordering assassinations from behind bars, using cellphones smuggled to him.
The 16 other convicted gangsters were handed sentences ranging from 10 to 25 years in jail.
This week regional Justice department head Hishaam Mohamed warned that security at prisons around the Western Cape would be heightened after the sentencing in the Thomas case.
“All correctional facilities have been put on high alert,” he said.
Regional Correctional Services commissioner Delekile Klaas said plans were in place to determine where each of the convicts would be jailed. They would not necessarily be placed in the Western Cape.
“We are going to do our own internal security assessment on each of them. On the basis of that, we’ll determine where each goes,” he said.
In the Thomas case it emerged that six State witnesses were among those killed during a murder spree that took place mainly in Bishop Lavis, his stronghold, between 2006 and 2010.
Thomas had ordered some of the murders while being held in solitary confinement.
This week, Klaas said some Correctional Services staff had been so terrified of Thomas they had followed his orders, possibly helping him get hold of cellphones.
But Thomas and his co-convicts were now being closely monitored to ensure they did not commit more crimes from behind bars.
Klaas said Correctional Services staff were working with the police’s anti-gang operation to try and stamp out gangsterism, and that this included using a novel gang assessment tool.
On Friday the police’s Major General Jeremy Vearey, the deputy provincial commissioner of crime detection, told Weekend Argus that the gang assessment tool was a programme driven by Correctional Services, the product of about two years of research. It was based on case studies and prison operations in California and Canada, as well as locally where the 26s, 27s and 28s have operated for more than 100 years.
Vearey said the plan had been fine-tuned recently, and was now being implemented.
Instead of simply focusing on the past actions of gangsters, it tried to predict what gangsters would do in jail. Rehabilitation was also aimed at preventing these future actions.
Sentenced and awaiting trial prisoners were the specific focus.
“One particular problem we had before was that we never had gang profiling… Now we take a particular approach.
“When you’re admitted to prison you get classified,” Vearey said.
This meant that if, for example, a 26s gangster was jailed, police who gathered intelligence on the ground would alert prison authorities about his gang affiliation before he arrived there.
Vearey said the mission of 26s gangsters was to make money, so authorities would then pre-empt how the gangster would try and do so behind bars.
“You know the only way a 27s (gangster) is going to grow is through blood, through violence.
“We look at rehabilitating that person from what’s going to happen,” he said.
The likely actions of the gangster were examined, and the gangster was then jailed in an environment where he would be least able to carry out the expected actions.
“Nowhere in the world is there a programme just like this,” he said.
The gang assessment tool was also aimed at preventing the numbers gangs from growing in jails.
Vearey said because more information was being shared between various tiers of police and Correctional Services, officers who arrested a suspect for theft could be told by other officers the suspect was actually a gang boss.
This information was then relayed to the Correctional Services Department, and the suspect would then be detained under specific conditions.
“Putting a high-ranking number (gangster) with others means this person can grow the number (expand the gang). (A gangster) is obliged to grow the number, and wherever you transfer the person they are obliged to create the number (start a new branch),” he said.
“You need to know how to manage that person because you don’t want them to grow the number.”
Vearey also said more major gang trials were expected to start in the Western Cape High Court later this year.
Both Vearey and Klaas said a case set to be heard soon stemmed from a murder that played out in Pollsmoor’s medium B section about two years ago, when an inmate was killed as part of a 26s gang ritual.
While the Thomas trial had focused on the 28s gang, the new trial would focus on the 26s, and involved about 36 accused, about double the number in the Thomas case.