Westville Prison

Sixty cellphones, sim cards, a bucketful of phone chargers, earphones and adaptors were seized by warders at Westville Prison’s Medium-B cells, in a surprise night raid this week.

It was the second such raid since the Daily News reported on a phone scam conducted from within the prison. The first raid netted 50 cellphones.

It was reported that a scam artist caught people by pretending to be a policeman, threatening them with arrest if they did not settle outstanding traffic fines by depositing money into a Money Market account. He taunted a victim by saying he was calling from inside Westville Prison.

Prison sources revealed they were closing in on the culprit.

Prisoners use the phones to contact family and spouses, or to surf the internet.

Phones recovered ranged from Blackberrys to R99 models, and are sold to prisoners for between R200 and R2 500. Some warders are believed to be behind the smuggling of these items.

They are estimated to be raking in more than R20 000 a month by selling cellphones, drugs and other prohibited items, high ranking sources at the prison have revealed.

Five Westville Prison warders are being investigated by the Department of Correctional Services for corruption.

Prison section head, Mfanafuthi Nxumalo, on Thursday confirmed the raids and corruption charges against the warders.

Also found in Wednesday night’s raid were four home-made knives, stolen food, electric sandwich toasters, dagga, mandrax and cash.

Items confiscated are banned from the prison, especially cellphones which are not allowed on the premises, even by staff, he said.

Medium-B houses more than 4 000 criminals – almost twice its capacity – many of whom are serving multiple life-sentences for rape and murder. Fewer than 200 warders are deployed in the section.

The sources said the latest raid was conducted among less than a quarter of the inmates because of limited resources and staff shortages at the prison.

“After lockdown, they tend to take out all this stuff. It’s not hidden and is often found lying on their bed or in their possession.

 

“During the day these things are stashed all over the place. But, when routine day searches are conducted, phones and sim cards have been found hidden in soap bars and the prisoners’ mouths. (A cellphone) is often wrapped in plastic and then inserted either in the rectum or vagina. The prisoners can conceal things in many parts of their bodies. Unfortunately the prison does not have the latest scanners, X-ray machines and other devices that can detect cellphones. Despite various checks by warders, they get past us.”

 

Attempts were made to try to cut off the cellphone signal completely, but prison authorities were told it could have fatal consequences.

“This technology apparently affects how a pacemaker works and could end up killing someone.”

During Wednesday’s raid, nine prisoners were found with the phones on them. The other cellphones were found in the cells.

 

Confiscated phones are kept for about a month. Those suspected to have been used to conduct criminal activities are given to police and the rest are destroyed – smashed to pieces with a hammer, the sources said. - Daily News