Inmates better protected

Independent Correctional Centre Visitors Maryanne Downs of Noordhoek, Julia Finye of Philippi and Nombuyiselo Tini from Bergvliet.

Bad food, not enough food, sharing a cell with a smoker, circumcision, lice, bedbugs, plumbing and more, are all issues taken up by Independent Correctional Centre Visitors (ICCV), or prison visitors. They work under the auspices of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) by facilitating complaints by prisoners at Pollsmoor and other prisons.

Speaking from the boardroom of the maximum security unit of one of five facilities in the Pollsmoor compound, ICCV chairperson Maryanne Downs says the service was established by Nelson Mandela in February 20 1997. She says there was nothing like it when he was at Pollsmoor – independent people and visitors were also scarce in those days. “That’s what we are – independent observers, sharing the challenges in trying to protect the rights of inmates,” says Ms Downs.

Now ICCV have invited individuals and non-profit organisations working the community to join them at their monthly meetings and to get involved. This is when ICCVs get together with unit managers to discuss issues raised by prisoners. These range from healthcare to challenges of communicating with family, bail applications, complaints about a Department of Correctional Services (DCS) members and getting Legal Aid.

Ms Downs says complaints are recorded and passed on to the relevant unit manager who is then given seven days to resolve the issue.

Ms Downs says ICCVs also inspect correctional units and write monthly reports on the treatment of prisoners and on the conditions in these units. The reports are sent to Judge Johann van der Westhuizen, of JICS, an independent office established in terms of the Correctional Services Act in 1998 (“NGO’s prison upgrade”, Bulletin January 5). They then look for patterns or trends.

Ms Downs says ICCVs conduct private consultations with prisoners and facilitate their complaints.

“Not only inside the prison, we also get calls from family members which we follow up with the prisoner. We’re the independent oversight, the eyes and ears of the correctional system,” says Ms Downs.

Meetings are held on the first Tuesday of the month. The minutes of the June meeting are not light reading. Leaking taps, blocked toilets and not enough hot water are among plumbing challenges at the facility, built in 1964.

Ms Downs says with so many prisoners using the same toilets and showers, added to them being broken out of spite there is also not enough hot water.

Jerry Naidoo, head of the remand detention unit, says hot water works on a first come, first served basis. “The last prisoners to get up in the morning end up with cold water,” he says. Ms Downs heard from a DCS official of one night finding a prisoner standing under a hot shower, the water running, the prisoner fast asleep.

With winter here, prisoners are finding the cells cold and draughty. The reason, windows are broken, often to use glass as a weapon.

Lice and bedbugs are another complaint with fumigation done regularly but not in June because of the big storm. It is planned for July.

One prisoner complained that the shop should be accessible to prisoners more often. Mr Naidoo says the spaza type shop sells basic items but no tins. Prisoners pay with money held for them at reception.

Lack of spoons and toilet paper were some of the minor complaints as against a serious case where, according to a family member, a prisoner was allegedly assaulted by other prisoners. The incident was reported earlier this year with the head of the female unit asked if the prisoner had reported it, if she had received medical treatment and whether she had laid a charge of assault against her attackers. In June JICS legal department received the investigation report and the committee agreed that the case be closed.

In another case, a male prisoner was allegedly assaulted by a female DCS officer. ICCVs Nombuyiselo Tini says a case was opened at Kirstenhof police which is under investigation. DCS is also investigating the report.

In December, Judge van Der Westhuizen inspected the remand detention unit where larger cells were packed with 80 to 90 prisoners some sleeping on the floor, others sharing mattresses. Mr Naidoo says these cells are now occupied by 35 prisoners and each one has a mattress.

At that time the prisoner count was 7 477. On Tuesday July 4, according to DCS Area Commissioner Ntobeko Clifford Mketshane there are 6 717 at present,a 148% reduction, a milestone achieved for the first time since 2005 in keeping with the ruling by the Cape High Court in December. At that time Pollsmoor should accommodate 1 619 prisoners, had an occupancy rate of 251% (4 066).

To join the next ICCV meeting on Tuesday August 1, contact maryannedowns8@gmail.com, or SMS 076 4222 791.

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