SA prisons suspend visits for 30 days due to Covid-19 outbreak
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Cape Town - Correctional Services has suspended visits to offenders for a period of 30 days in order to put in place preventative and mitigating measures against the spread of Covid-19.
According to Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo, preventative measures would include making Correction Services department centres Covid-19 free by rolling out testing at all points of entry for inmates, officials and contractors.
“Instilling a prevention behaviour is key at this stage for the department, hence awareness and educational programmes are being offered to inmates and officials,” Nxumalo said.
He said the plan was quite extensive as it also talks to how inmates are admitted in facilities and transported to either courts or hospitals. “The type of vehicles to be utilised and the use of technology, such as, videoconferencing for some court appearances in order to limit social contact is being prioritised.”
Nxumalo said the department has established a National Emergency Response Team at head office, replicated at regional, management area and centre levels, which would co-ordinate and ensure the execution of all mitigation interventions.
“A standard operating procedure and national mitigation plan supported by various branch and divisional plans have been developed to guide the overall response that the department will employ in order to prevent the spread of the virus, and be in a position to contain it should there be an outbreak,” Nxumalo said.
He said communicating with inmates, officials and the general public would be elevated in order to keep everyone abreast of new developments.
President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed millions of concerned South Africans, from the Union Building in Pretoria about the plan going forward to control the number of Covid-19 cases in the country, and announced the suspension of visits to correctional services for 30 days.
Zia Wasserman, national prison co-ordinator for Sonke Gender Justice, said it was great that Ramaphosa mentioned prisons in his address on Sunday, “and I agree that visitors should be restricted in prisons”.
However, Wasserman said she remained very concerned about the virus spreading in prisons. She said officials from the Correctional Services department need to take great precautions on the pandemic.
“There should be regular testing happening for inmates and staff, and people at risk should be adequately quarantined,” Wasserman said.
Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) Penal Reform Programme head Clare Ballard said inmates should be empowered with knowledge and amenities, “they need to protect themselves”.
Ballard said Ramaphosa’s plan on Correctional Services was appropriate, “it is a state of emergency that means various rights can be limited or infringed”. She said they should be permitted private use of a telephone for the purpose of consulting with their legal representatives, and said they should be compensated for the no visits.
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said the government would only implement a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus outbreak as a last resort.
“At this stage, we really believe that the interventions, as per the advice of the health department, can be done through the state of disaster,” he said.