Six new correctional centres to be built, 12 more planned

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cape Town - Construction on six new correctional centres will get under way this year, with a further 12 in the pipeline, Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Wednesday.

The construction of the new correctional centres, which will provide for 3 500 new bed spaces, is one of a number of initiatives outlined by Mapisa-Nqakula to reduce overcrowding in correctional facilities.

The new correctional centres will help to provide the extra bed space needed, after the department last year cancelled two public-private partnerships to build facilities which would have added a further 3 000 bed spaces.

Presenting her Budget Vote in Parliament, the minister said the six new correctional centres included two new facilities of 500-bed spaces in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape and one of the same size in Western Cape, as well as a 1 000-bed capacity in KwaZulu-Natal.

The department is also discussing plans to add a further 12 centres of between 500 and 1 500 bed spaces with the National Treasury and Department of Public Works planned for after this year.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the cancellation last year of two correctional centres that were to be built through public-private partnership did not mean the department was no longer interested in centres built by the private sector.

Briefing the media before her Budget Vote, she said the private sector could still build centres, but that the state would retain custodial services.

Currently, in the two public-private partnerships that remain in operation, private operators are in charge of taking care of and guarding inmates.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the department wanted new privately-built centres to be based more on requirements rather than on the initial proposal that the facility should have a 3 000-bed capacity across the board.

Other initiatives to deal with overcrowding in correctional centres included setting up new district centres for remand detainees, the piloting of electronic monitoring tags, rolling out halfway houses and the granting of special remission of sentences as announced by President Jacob Zuma on April 27.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the department had approved and set up 23 district centres for remand detainees.

The department was also considering the use of electronic tags as part of alternative sentencing for minor offences. A pilot in this regard was started on February 14 and the 106th participant was tagged in Cape Town yesterday.

The first halfway house funded by the government was opened in February and is currently housing juveniles who initially could not be released because of a lack of a support system.

The next category, who are expected to be placed in the halfway house, are women.

Although the number of prison escapes had fallen from 106 in 2010 to 41 last year, the department has begun updating security at prisons.

Tom Moyane, the department's national commissioner, said a R480-million contract had been awarded to Security South Africa Gate and Fence to install security fences with closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras and detection systems at 27 correctional centres.

Added to this, a service provider was updating the current access control system of correctional centres and body scanners would also be initially installed in 20 priority facilities.

Mapisa-Nqakula said the access control and the Fencing Virtual Private Network that had been run by external service providers had been taken over by the department.

The department's security policy procedures have been revised and aligned to the government's approved minimum security standards.

Turning to the improvement of conditions for women in correctional centres, Mapisa-Nqakula said the department in August last year opened the first of its Mother and Baby Units for women who are serving sentences and have young babies under the age of two.

The units are now in operation in Pollsmoor in Cape Town, Westville in Durban and Johannesburg, she said.

"The purpose of these units is to allow the child as close to normal an existence as possible, even if such is under the conditions of incarceration of the mother," she said.

A pilot project in the East London Female Correctional Centre, involving 10 female offenders in maximum security, is underway to provide sanitary towels for young women.

A National Framework on Offender Labour has been developed to increase the number of offenders that participate in offender labour and training programmes.

Mapisa-Nqakula said she had appointed a team, led by Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, to investigate the employment equity issue raised in the Western Cape.

She said a new medical parole policy had come into effect on March 1 after the appointment of a Medical Parole Advisory Board chaired by Dr Victor Ramathesele. The board is an independent panel made up of medical doctors that will decide on all medical aspects in the applications for placement on parole based on medical grounds.

"Only after their input may a parole board consider such an application and decide in terms of the broader criteria for placement," she said, adding that there were about 298 inmates that could be considered for medical parole under the new framework.