NGO’s prison upgrade

Overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and sickness were some of the realities which confronted Judge Johann van der Westhuizen, of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services when he and his team inspected Pollsmoor Prison last week.

Larger cells are packed with bodies, some semi-naked in the sweltering heat, a partitioned toilet in a corner. Instead of housing 4 336 prisoners, Pollsmoor caters for 7 477, according to Mr Mketshane.

They have enough beds for sentenced prisoners and the problem lies in the awaiting trial section with 3 263 people where there should be 1 690, a 201 percent excess.

Mr Mketshane said the prison is 277 percent overcrowded and they have been ordered to reduce this to 120 percent. One way of addressing this has been to redistribute sentenced prisoners to regional facilities.

Pollsmoor serves 19 courts in the greater Cape Town area. He said the problem is three-fold an aging building, shortage of staff and overcrowding.

Prisoners should receive a minimum of one-hour exercise each day but are presently allowed outside once a week. “Which is unconstitutional. They’re supposed to receive three meals a day but at present have breakfast and then lunch and supper together. We’re not complying with the law,” says Mr Mketshane.

He added that some prisoners arrive with scabies and skin problems after spending six days in police cells. “They’re supposed to get warm water to shower but they aren’t…”

Member of Parliament Freddie Adams said the police, the judicial system and correctional services should work together to speed up the process for awaiting trial prisoners.

“Some cases take four to five years and some prisoners are incarcerated for petty theft and are behind bars because they cannot pay R50 bail. This costs taxpayers R4 000 each day. In Canada they have a system of sweat equity where the prisoner pays off their debt by sweeping streets, cleaning hospitals,” said Mr Adams.

Operations manager Wiseman Kanzi then showed the Bulletin unit B2.

Women Taking Action were renovating this section using prison labour of trained painters, carpenters and welders used on a rotational basis. The plan is to have this section, and the neighbouring one, look as good as the female section by this week and will free up beds for 400 prisoners.