This emerged in an annual report of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (Jics) tabled in Parliament, which recorded an increase of 30.
The department is obliged to report prisoner deaths to the judicial inspectorate headed by Judge Johann van der Westhuizen.
“In 2017-18, 82 such prima facie unnatural deaths were reported to Jics, with suicides representing 27 (38%) of the total,” the judicial inspectorate said.
It found that inmate-on-inmate deaths were linked to inter-gang rivalry.
“Inmates were killed as result of stabbing with self-made knives, assault with fists, and/or kicked to death. The extreme violence and brutality that took place was caused by both remand detainees and sentenced offenders.”
The inspectorate said no prisoners suffered homicide at the hands of prison warders.
“Some deaths are classified as ‘other’. This is temporary classification. The cause death is determined once the autopsy report is received by Department Correctional Services.”
However, the inspectorate noted with concern that suicide was the most common type of unnatural death in the prisons with the majority occurring in Gauteng.
Gauteng recorded 10 suicides, Western Cape four, Eastern Cape two, KwaZulu-Natal five, Free State and northern Cape four and three others in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West.
The inspectorate said suicides in communal cells occurred out of sight of other prisoners.
“These usually occurred during lock-up, which is often from late afternoon until the morning.”
It noted with concern that three suicides by medication overdose took place in Gauteng.
The inspectorate put the overall deaths to approximately 308 natural death per 100000 of the prisoner population.