JOHANNESBURG - Sentenced inmates at Johannesburg Correctional Centre, also known as "Sun City", on Thursday appealed to the government to do something about overcrowding in prison cells and also deal with their alleged mistreatment by correctional officers.
This was during an unannounced raid by the deputy minister of justice and correctional services, Thabang Makwetla, at the prison's Medium B section to ensure that inmates have an incident-free Christmas holiday.
This maximum security prison section houses 2,631 inmates, with 567 of them serving anywhere from 10 years to multiple life sentences.
Percy Mashele, an inmate with physical disability serving a long sentence, said that the correctional service officers had been ignoring his pleas for a lower bed as prison cells have bunker beds.
"I know I'm going to be in danger for saying this, but I am asking for your help to get a bottom bed. I live with a physical disability and I stayed in a wheelchair for a period of five years. I've been struggling since I'm sleeping on the top bed. What will happen to me if I fall from the top bed?" Mashele asked.
Another long-serving inmate in crutches complained about mistreatment by officers, alleging that prison officials had taken away his wheelchair after the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital prescribed it to him.
A 79-year-old inmate, who has been serving a life sentence since 1994, complained to Makwetla that they have been waiting too long for the parole board to review the sentences of "lifers" -- that is inmates serving life-sentences -- while their health was deteriorating, especially as he has developed a cataract.
Other inmates complained about lack of new prison uniforms, mattresses, sheets, and beds, saying they have to use makeshift beds and extend the bunk beds by putting planks in the spaces between the beds to accommodate those who slept on the floor.
The unannounced raid was part of the department's "Operation Vala" to ensure the safety of inmates in correctional centres.
The raid uncovered scores of contraband hidden inside the cells, including multiple cellphones and SIM cards, dagga (marijuana) and drugs, money, home-made weapons such as a chain with a padlock at the other end, shoes belonging to a prison officer, radios, a tattoo drawing contraption, an electric frying pan and a cable stolen from somewhere inside the prison.
Makwetla promised the inmates that he would look into their concerns, and asked them to cooperate with officers. He said the raid was for their benefit as the department was trying to remove things that may be harmful and used against them when fights break out in prison.
He said that Sun City should have had cellphone detection technology installed over three years ago because cellphones are the "biggest headache" they have, but the department has not been able to do so due to lack of funds.
"What we have been exposed to is an indication that there is a lot of trafficking in our correctional centres and a lot of contraband that is coming in causing other problems. Our concern is that we must remove as much stuff in our centres in the cells as is possible that can be used to fan violence in this period, especially objects and instruments that can be used by inmates to hurt each other," Makwetla said.
"I have noted that there is a set of things that speaks to resources that this centre must be assisted with, the basics that we must provide. The reason is not because we want to make life difficult for these offenders. [Offenders] must understand our intentions as our intention is nothing else but to make sure that in action we really ensure that they have a peaceful festive period, or rather Christmas period."
African News Agency (ANA)