The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) said overcrowding and old infrastructure in prisons across the country were partly to blame for the recent spate of breakouts.
Inspecting Judge Johann van der Westhuizen is currently visiting prisons and said conditions were dire.
“JICS is concerned that the recent spate of prison escapes may be related to possible unconducive conditions at the correctional centres, which decreases the safety of the citizens of South Africa,” he said.
In one prison in KwaZulu-Natal, Van der Westhuizen found that the prisoners did not have beds, with only single sponges to sleep on. Their old toilets did not work and were shared by many inmates.
The JICS is mandated to “investigate the treatment of inmates, conditions in jails and any corrupt or dishonest practices at correctional centres”.
Van der Westhuizen said he was eagerly awaiting the investigations into the jailbreak.
A manhunt for the 16 prisoners is continuing. “The department will not rest until all 16 inmates who escaped from the Johannesburg Correctional Centre are brought back to our correctional facilities. Our goal is to achieve zero escapes from our correctional centres because we believe it is achievable,” said Department of Correctional Services (DCS) spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo.
Nxumalo could not respond to some questions The Star sent on Monday, saying this was because “an internal investigation is currently under way”.
He said a number of initiatives had been undertaken by DCS to reduce jailbreaks.
“From April 1, 2016 to October 2016, a total of 35 offenders escaped with 15 rearrests.”
He said modern technology was being installed to improve security and the ability to detect contraband that was often used to facilitate escapes.
“DCS is working closely with other security cluster institutions, including law enforcement agencies, when conducting investigations into these escapes,” Nxumalo said.