Operation Vala, aimed at enhancing security at prisons during the festive season, was launched with a simulation exercise on Monday. Picture: Jonisayi Maromo / ANA

Pretoria - Criminals serving sentences in South Africa's 243 prisons will be safely kept behind bars over the festive season, a period characterised by inmates' launching spirited bids to escape jail to spend time with loved ones, the correctional services department said on Monday.

"As we all know, we have just begun the festive season. It is without any doubt, that time [when] everyone wants to spend time with family and friends. It is also time when inmates in our centres become desperate to escape [jail] for various reasons which include perpetuation of criminal activities or simply the inability to resist the urge of wanting to be with friends and family at this time," said Grace Molatedi, department of correctional services' Gauteng regional commissioner.

Molatedi made the remarks at the launch Operation Vala on Monday, at Baviaanspoort Correctional Centre in Pretoria.

"The festive season poses a very serious challenge for the department. It is for this reason, that an effort is made towards the enhancement and security measures that are put in place at different correctional centres during the festive season.

She said Operation Vala aims to tighten security measures at all correctional facilities across South Africa. 

"It aims to prevent festive season incidents and to increase visibility and involvement of managers at all levels in operational activities. All law enforcement agencies, the justice, crime prevention and security cluster - including the department of correctional services are expected to be more vigilant in ensuring that the safety of our people, especially during this time of the year, is enhanced," said Molatedi. 

"It is our task to ensure that those who have wronged the law, remain behind bars, and continue to serve their sentences as imposed by the courts. Security is not something we take lightly."

The annual campaign will have DCS's Emergency Support Team and other tactical units ready for all situations including rowdy prisoners, riots and hostage situations.

The tactical units of DCS, supported by the South African Police Service, simulated their readiness for eventualities - showcasing the capabilities of the different units including the equestrian team and the K9 units.

The event was attended by Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Thabang Makwetla, national commissioner of Correctional Services Arthur Fraser, and Advocate Andy Mothibi - head of the Special Investigating Unit (SIU).

African News Agency (ANA)