As the country tries to deal with the high rate of Covid-19 infections, prisoners who have tested positive say they have been left to die.
Sunday Independent this week spoke to two inmates who said after testing positive, the only thing done for them was to move to a single cell. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the pair said they have been thrown in a dark hole and left alone.
“The treatment we are receiving, it’s like we are the ones who brought it here. I’m in isolation in a room that has no windows, its freezing and we are not getting medication. We are not seeing a doctor,” said one inmate.
“We are not even allowed to call and inform our families of our conditions. The nurses and warders are afraid of us or even interact with us.” Another inmate said it appears as though the department and the prison officials don’t know what they are doing. He said they are not being told what kind of medication they need to be taking in order to get better.
“Its as though they are using the system of staying in a room and hoping the virus leaves your body. If we as infected people don’t get medication, then why are we stressing so much about the virus? Effectively, you just need to stay in your room for 14 or 21 days and drink Panado or Disprin and you will be fine.” The inmates have also accused prison officials of not testing enough in a bid to keep true numbers low.
On Friday, there were 2190 confirmed cases in prisons - 983 officials and 1207 inmates. There are 523 active cases and a recovery of 25 cases.
Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo refuted the allegations by the inmates. He said quarantine and isolation sites must meet the standard set by the Department of Health. Nxumalo said for an inmate to be placed in quarantine, he/she must have been in direct contact with a positive case or displaying Covid-19 symptoms. They are then tested and kept there while waiting for the results.
“Both the isolation and quarantine sites must have electricity, running water, air ventilation, and other necessities. Beside correctional officials, these sites also have professional nurses and sessional medical doctors. This is to ensure that appropriate health care is given to those who may require it.
“Only those who have tested positive are moved into isolation.Nxumalo maintained that there was no truth to the allegations regarding inmates being placed in cells without windows. The publication has, however, seen pictures of the cells where the inmates are kept. One cell room’s butler door is covered with a black refuse bag as it doesn’t have a solid closing one.
“The allegation of cells with no windows and lack of blankets is ludicrous and insane. There is no cell in South Africa without windows. Any media house that has been to our centres will know this,” he said.
On Saturday, there was a riot at the Potchefstroom prison where inmates burnt a cell block. According to convicts there, a prisoner and a warder tested positive last week. They say they are angered as management is under quarantine yet they are in packed cells.
“Potchefstroom houses 1900 awaiting trialists and about 200 sentenced inmates. The unit housing 800 awaiting trialists is set on fire. Take into consideration that all managers of the prison are under quarantine. The inmates are demanding to be tested or be released,” said one convict.
Nxumalo said, “They were demanding they be taken to court. The situation is now under control. An investigation is currently under way and no injuries were recorded.”