The weapon used to stab a correctional services warder at a Johannesburg court. Picture: Supplied by the department of correctional services

Pretoria - The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) on Tuesday said it had been “infuriated” by an incident where a correctional services department’s warder was stabbed twice by an inmate who was attempting to escape at the High Court in Johannesburg.

“The incident took place at a time when the correctional official was single-handedly escorting a sentenced inmate from the Johannesburg Correctional Centre’s B section, which houses maximum (security) offenders, at the Johannesburg High Court, where he was overpowered, stabbed and then chained by the inmate who attempted to escape, but was soon caught by members of the public,” said Popcru spokesperson Richard Mamabolo.

“Correctional officials continue to remain vulnerable to attacks because the correctional centres’ management force them to escort inmates single-handedly, going against its policy of having two officials for an individual offender. This has placed the lives of officials at risk, while the courts also do not allow for inmates to be shackled when appearing.”

Mamabolo said the incident, which took place on Monday, has adversely affected the morale of many correctional officials “who continue to be single-handedly forced to escort dangerous convicted criminals or face the risks of being charged by the very management that claims to prioritise their interests”.

Popcru urged warders across South Africa to reject any instructions to escort inmates if the numbers of officers are not sufficient.

“We want to categorically state that all correctional officials across the country should blatantly refuse to escort maximum inmates to the courts or hospitals if the ratio is not 2: 1, meaning that there should at all times be two correctional officials escorting one inmate, excluding a driver,” said Mamabolo.

“All officials should work strictly in accordance with the defined policies, and no amount of intimidation from the management will be tolerated by Popcru. We further urge the department to speedily resolve the challenge around shift patterns as the current shifts in the management areas exacerbate the shortages of personnel.”

The department of correctional services said it had been “gravely disturbed” by the stabbing incident, as it significantly values the safety of its workers.

“The department of correctional services recognises its human resources as its most valuable asset, and, within the parameters of a constrained economy and budget restrictions, we have managed to sustain a vacancy rate of 5.7 percent, which is less than the government-wide threshold,” said spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo.

"We are a security department where safety for both officials and offenders must be guaranteed. We have had engagements with the National Treasury in order to ensure that we have the required boots on the ground in an effort to prevent some of the disturbing cases that we confront at times. However, it must be stated that overcrowding is a serious challenge and continues to stretch our resources."

He emphasised that despite the challenges, the department “has never gambled with the lives of officials” as there are clear policies in place in terms of escorting inmates to courts and other outside facilities, such as hospitals.

“It is therefore prudent for the investigators to uncover if all security measures were followed,” said Nxumalo.

African News Agency (ANA)