Officials suspended after prisoner escape

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Pretoria - A mass escape by prisoners at the Harrismith Correctional Centre on Monday has led to the summarily dismissal of two Correctional Services officials who were linked to the escape.

The dismissals follow a prompt fact finding visit to the facility by Correctional Services Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula - following an escape last night of 41 awaiting trial detainees.

According to the department, Monday's escape was the biggest single escape from a correctional facility in many years.

Mapisa-Nqakula said breaching of security cannot be tolerated because South Africans and Parliament expect not just the reduction of escapes, but no escapes from Correctional Centres.

She said the President's directive is for all departments of the Criminal Justice System to ensure that "all people in South Africa are and feel safe.'

She expressed serious concerns about the integrity of some of correctional officials whose conduct gives a bad name to thousands of hard working and dedicated correctional officials who see their employment as a call to serve the people of South Africa.

Expressing her gratitude to her officials at the center, Mapisa-Nqakula said: "I really admire you for bravery given the conditions under which you work, but at times we must take drastic actions to instil discipline where the conduct of officials warrant such actions."

The minister praised the South African Police Services for making quick and good progress in recapturing eight of the 41 escapees within a few hours after their escape.

She expressed confidence that police, correctional services and the public will collaborate to re-arrest the rest of the escapees sooner than later.

The minister further announced a number of measures to improve security in correctional centres including discussions with the police to ensure appropriate classification of ATDs so that high security detainees are not incarcerated in medium facilities like Harrismith and Intensification of biometric registration of all inmates to ensure that finger prints and photographs are readily available to assist in their proper identification and re-arrest.

This also includes speedy conviction of the re-arrested escapees so that those responsible for serious crimes could be sent to high security facilities immediately.

Regional Commissioner Modise will facilitate further investigations into the incident to ensure that all gaps exploited by the escapees are closed.

The escapees will face further criminal charges of escape.

Harrismith Correctional Centre houses 236 inmates, 91 of whom are remand detainees.

It is one of the small facilities that will form part of the department's audit with an aim of ensuring better and more efficient utilisation of resources including personnel.

The department has warned people not to attempt arresting the suspects as they are regarded as dangerous.

Members of the public are urged to provide information on the escapees to police by calling 10111.

Minister Mapisa-Nqakula was accompanied by Correctional Services National Commissioner Tom Moyane, Chief Deputy Commissioner of Corrections Tebogo Motseki, Regional Commissioner of Free State and Northern Cape Zach Modise and other senior officials.