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Unnatural prison death stats a problem

Correctional Services says it’s trying to address the issue of unnatural prison deaths.

FILE: The Johannesburg Central Prison. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA

CAPE TOWN - The Correctional Services Department on Thursday admitted it's struggling to bring down the high number of unnatural deaths in prisons.

The department revealed to Eyewitness News that 57 inmate deaths were reported nationally in the past financial year, 26 of which were suicides.

The Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative (CSPRI)'s Lukas Muntingh believes Correctional Services is failing to reduce suicides behind bars.

"We know from previous reports in some of those cases the inmate was a known suicide risk and the department failed to take the necessary preventive measures."

Muntingh said that in the prison system of England and Wales suicide watch is a high priority.

"I'm not convinced that prevention enjoys the same priority here," he said.

But the department's Chief of Staff Gcinumzi Ntlakana said they are trying to address the issue.

"We're trying to look at ways of improving the presence of our officials. We've identified the fact that most of these suicides happen in single cells after hours."

He said most of the suicides are by hanging.

South Africa has 243 correctional facilities around the country, which collectively house more than 150,000 inmates.

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