Slow march to better conditions for prisoners

In April 2015, Constitutional Court Judge Edwin Cameron released a report describing the cells in the male and female remand centres as “filthy and cramped”.

He also noted the staff shortage with a staff ratio of one to four inmates, half the minimum requirement.

In March 2015, Sonke Gender Justice civil society organisation released a documentary, Pollsmoor Remand: They Treated Us Like Animals (“Pollsmoor’s heavy burden”, Bulletin June 23 2016)

Taking four months to produce it included behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with former inmates who talked of being denied chronic medication and contracting diseases, such as TB and HIV, which they then spread into their communities upon their release. One man described the foul smell and overcrowding, saying prisoners sleep with their clothes on and that there are lice everywhere.

He said 70 people use one shower and one toilet, which is blocked most of the time. Unscreened, prisoners cover the toilet with a blanket to block the stench. A female inmate spoke of contracting an infection from a toilet seat while five-months pregnant and how she shared a cell with 97 others.

In May 2015, Sonke Gender Justice, represented by the Lawyers for Human Rights, lodged charges against DCS for the deplorable state of health conditions and the violation of human rights of inmates.

In August 2015, there was an outbreak of leptospirosis, which is an infectious bacterial disease occurring in rodents, dogs, and other mammals, and can be transmitted to humans (“Prison scrub-down”, Bulletin September 24 2016). There was a massive evacuation of thousands of inmates after two prisoners died and scores of others were deemed to be at high risk of exposure to this infectious disease.