'Big Brother' to keep a close eye on inmates

The Department of Correctional Services will be installing surveillance cameras in the cells and corridors of prisons. File picture: Stephen Chernin

The Department of Correctional Services will be installing surveillance cameras in the cells and corridors of prisons. File picture: Stephen Chernin

Published Apr 14, 2016


Johannesburg - Surveillance cameras could soon come to the cells and corridors of South Africa’s correctional facilities, in an effort by the Department of Correctional Services to curb crime in prisons.

Parliament's portfolio committee on justice and correctional services heard the proposal on Tuesday, and is now awaiting an implementation plan from the department.

“We have a situation where criminal activities take place which cannot be detected and prevented; violence against officials but also violence by inmates against other inmates,” Mathole Motshekga, chairman of the committee, said on Wednesday.

“We believe that these cameras will deter inmates... If that happens, we’ll know who’s responsible.”

Motshekga said the committee and the department had agreed on the proposal and that the department was formulating a plan for the rollout.

He said the cameras should be implemented in the coming financial year, but could not give specifics on where the cameras would be located and how many would be installed.

The national commissioner in the Department of Correctional Services, Zach Modise, told the committee that the cameras could help prevent “horrendous crimes” that occur in the facilities.

Motshekga said the committee had called for such cameras because they found the security of the correctional facilities inadequate.

Carolyn Raphaely, a senior journalist at the Wits Justice Project, said the added surveillance of the cameras raised privacy concerns. “I don’t know what (the department) has done to address these issues,” she said. “But the privacy issues are serious and need to be considered carefully.”

In response, Motshekga said the security of prison officials and inmates should take precedence. “By virtue of being incarcerated, the privacy of the inmates is already limited,” he said. “We cannot put individual privacy above the security of the officials and inmates.”

But Raphaely said the cameras could also positively impact the rise of gangsterism and violence in prisons.

Modise told the committee the discussions around the proposal were complete and that the department had consulted with the SA Human Rights Commission and the Inspecting Judge for Correctional Services on the issue.

Modise also told the committee he would discuss it further with the National Commission of Corrections.

According to a statement, the number of offenders in custody is estimated at 44 000, a substantial decrease from the about 70 000 in custody in previous years.

The department was hoping to reduce the number of inmates to about 30 000.

Motshekga said the committee discussed the department prioritising its budget to focus on inmate rehabilitation. It has had to shift budgets around due to budget cuts to state departments, it said.

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