Committee reports reduced escapes, violence in SA's prisons

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pretoria - Over the last five years, there has been a major reduction in attempted escapes, escapes and gang-related incidents in South African prisons, according to a report by the Correctional Services Portfolio Committee.

Gang-related incidents in prisons are down from 196 in 1996 to 12 in 2008, while attempted escapes are down from 23 in 2004 to 13 in 2008 and escapes from 176 in 2004 to 70 in 2008.

In a statement welcoming the portfolio committee's report, the National Commissioner of Correctional Services Xoliswa Sibeko said the successes were a result of improved security, strategic partnerships and the suspension of officials of the department that threatened or compromised security.

The department said the decline of deaths, incidents of violence, gang related incidents and major reductions in escapes are a result of policy and strategy development as well as appropriate deployments and motivation of staff to ensure effective implementation.

A partnership with the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) brought great results in terms of numbers of officials disciplined, external corrupt partners that appeared in courts, millions of rands recovered over the years and projected savings.

"We believe the investment we further made in renewing the SIU contract in 2006 for three more years at a cost of R13 million was worth the effort," said the department.

The establishment of the Departmental Investigation Unit (DIU) also contributed significantly to improving conviction rates to around 90 percent of those taken through internal disciplinary as well as sending a clear and a deterrent signal to everyone to change from their wayward ways.

The report further indicates that overcrowding in prisons remains a major challenge for the department with all societal and systematic causes, despite a series of interventions which have ensured that offender population remained constant since 2005.

The special remission of sentence was also successfully implemented to help reduce the numbers of offenders. Offender population were reduced from 186 4572 in 2004 to 164 000 in 2008, with a slow increase over the past three years.

The calls for alternative sentencing and for incarceration to be reserved for those posing serious danger to society are landing on receptive ears across the criminal justice system.

Between April and December last year, over 16 000 offenders were sentenced to, among others, spend only one and half of their sentence in custody before placement under correctional supervision.

"These are welcoming developments, but a lot more still needs to be done considering the expected impact of efficiency gains of the planned review of the criminal justice system," said the department.

National Commissioner of Correctional Services, Xoliswa Sibeko on a statement indicated that the department ambitious target of filling vacancies by seven percent could not be met as they had between 9 and 11 percent vacancies over the past year compared to the government average of 30 percent.

Over 340 vacancies were advertised in December last year with plans to fill vacancies by April 2009.

Other interventions included the approval of a recruitment and retention strategy which is currently being rolled out and the elevation of entry-level of psychologists which had previously experienced 71 percent vacancies.