Govt addresses prisoner reviews

Friday, August 14, 2009

Bloemfontein - Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Hlengiwe Mkhize, says the department has taken steps to address discrepancies in the reviewing of inmates in correctional centres.

She said inmates in correctional facilities that were run privately, as part of public-private partnerships, should enjoy the same rights as those in public correctional facilities. The latter are able to have the classification of their sentences reviewed from being in the Maximum Security category to a lower security category, such as Medium B. 

The deputy minister was speaking during a visit to the Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC), a maximum security facility, one of two in the country managed through a public-private partnership, where a group of inmates had embarked on a six-day hunger strike in protest of the facility's reclassification policy.

Many prisoners said they were unhappy about not being reviewed for years despite being ready and deserving to be in Medium B class prisons. 

Previously, the centre, as per its contract with government, was not mandated to reclassify the inmates.

However, Ms Mkhize said the MCC policy should be aligned with the department's policies on correctional facilities to make sure all inmates enjoyed the same rights and treatment.

"We should do away with the difference regarding the reclassification of inmates and focus on the same objectives of development and rehabilitation of inmates," she said. 

She added that reviewing of the inmates, of whom 700 are serving life sentences, had begun at the centre.

The deputy minister, however, warned that although the inmate's cases would now be reviewed to ensure they are indeed ready to be moved to a lower security facility, the risk factors should be taken into consideration. 

"We can review our policies but cannot give a guarantee that the inmates will not revert back to their former ways once in a Medium B prison," she said. 

Another concern the prisoners raised was that they had been put in facilities which were far away from friends and family. However, Ms Mkhize said inmates could not be easily transferred because of overcrowding in other prisons. 

She, however, encouraged family members not to shun their relatives who were carrying out their sentences and provide support for their rehabilitation. 

The inmates have agreed to suspend their hunger strike.