Over 4,400 women incarcerated in South Africa, with 60 babies born behind bars

Convicted criminals Najwa Dirk and Dina Rodrigues are two of the most reported on female prisoners in South Africa and are from the Western Cape. File Picture

Convicted criminals Najwa Dirk and Dina Rodrigues are two of the most reported on female prisoners in South Africa and are from the Western Cape. File Picture

Published Mar 17, 2024


Cape Town - In total, 4 412 women are behind bars in South Africa, 60 of whom have given birth – and in the Western Cape, 902 women find themselves imprisoned with nine babies being born.

This week, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) confirmed that while their prison population for women was growing, so were their rehabilitation programmes.

This week as the Weekend Argus focuses on why women commit crime, we ask what is being done to help women who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law.

The media itself has played a pivotal role in exposing such cases.

Who could forget the murder of six-month-old Baby Jordan-Leigh Norton in 2005. Dina Rodrigues had been fingered as the mastermind and is serving time at Worcester Female Prison.

Recently the DCS confirmed she would be eligible for a parole hearing on December 27, 2031.

Then there is Najwa Dirk Petersen, imprisoned at Pollsmoor. A new hearing for her will take place in 2024. Dirk was the mastermind behind the murder of her Cape musician husband, Taliep Petersen, in 2006.

Thousands of women find themselves behind bars in the country. File Picture

Florence Mailos Ndiaye is South Africa’s most wanted woman and has been on the run for over two years. The 53-year-old is wanted by Brazil and it is believed she might be in South Africa hiding from authorities over alleged international drug trafficking charges.

Ndiaye had a Red Notice issued against her by the international police organisation Interpol. This means if she crosses a border, her passport will be flagged and she will be arrested.

Candice van Reenen of the DCS confirmed the following female population numbers: “The total national figure is 4 412. This includes remand detainees and sentenced offenders.

“In the Western Cape the total female population is 902. This is for remand detainees and sentenced offenders.

“As of February 1, DCS had a total of 1 908 female remand detainees and 2 504 sentenced female inmates.

“Of these, 495 remand detainees were in the Western Cape, along with 407 sentenced female offenders.

“For the same period under review, nationally, there were 60 infants within Correctional Services BabyMother Units and from this number, nine were in the Western Cape.”

Van Reenen added that there are programmes being offered to help rehabilitate and reintegrate women back into society after their release.

“These programmes are rendered according to the needs of the inmate, as identified during initial assessment,” she said. “These programmes are geared at offering a holistic approach according to the needs of the inmate.

“The programmes include gender-based violence awareness programmes; anger management, programmes on sexual offences, substance abuse correctional programmes, restorative justice orientation programmes, behaviour modification programmes on gangsterism and pre-release programmes.

“Social work services offer life-skills, relationship and family programmes.

“Psychological interventions include programmes such as mental health intervention, criminogenic and psycho-education programmes.

“Spiritual care services are also offered to female remand detainees and 2 504 sentenced female inmates.”

Trish Armstrong, a forensic criminologist, told Weekend Argus hardened criminality among women, such as orchestrated murders, was nothing new, even in international drug cartel rings, or the sadistic killing of children.

Armstrong said she taught female criminality at Varsity College in 2022.

“Motivators, weapons, modus operandi and methods differ for males and females,” she said.

“The realm of criminal behaviour has long been dominated by male figures, but an increasing number of women find themselves entangled in various criminal activities, ranging from drug offences to robbery and murder.

“Understanding the reasons behind women’s involvement in crime requires a broader exploration of social, economic and psychological factors that contribute to their descent into the criminal underworld.”

She said social and economic, issues, domestic violence and abuse through to psychological issues, mental health issues and desperation and hopelessness were aggravating factors.

“Insufficient support systems, both within the community and in personal relationships, can leave women feeling isolated and abandoned.

“In such cases, criminal networks may provide a sense of belonging and support that is lacking in their conventional lives.”

Weekend Argus