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Security at SA prisons scrutinised

The decision for security reinforcement is informed by rampant crimes and gang fights in prisons.

Prisoners participating in a Mandela Day function in Qunu. Picture: Aletta Gardner/EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Prisons are more and more becoming havens for crime, drugs and violence because of corrupt officials and prisons being understaffed.

Talk Radio 702's John Webb spoke to Acting Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Correctional Services Koos Gerber about the state and security of prisons.

The conversation was sparked by a report by Sowetan newspaper that ex-convict Tshepo Salim Masango of Mamelodi in Pretoria said he made "big money" smuggling drugs, guns and cell phones during the seven years he was incarcerated.

Masango said, "At the end of the year, I probably would have made more than R700,000. I started smuggling the very same year I was convicted, until I got parole".

He added gang fights and deaths in prison were fuelled by rampant illicit deals.

Gerber admitted drugs and "things which make prison life nicer" go into prisons by various means.

"It's hard for the wardens to stop illegal activities because we have 6,000 in maximum facilities and 700 staff, where most of them go to court during the day."

Gerber said there are inmates who come from rich and poor backgrounds in prison and sometimes the rich inmates promise the authorities money if they smuggle things like drugs or weapons.

"The inmates work together with the wardens to do illegal things."

Last week Webb spoke to Vanessa Padayachee of the National Advocacy Manager at the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders about surveillance in prisons.

"Padayachee said, "Gangsterism and torture are big issues and they not only affect people in prisons but will also affect public safety once the prisoners are released."

She stressed the importance of surveillance in prisons.

Asked whether cameras would help stop smuggling Gerber said they would welcome any technology that would help fight crime.

"Although the cameras would help to an extent, it's more about the safety of the inmates."

Meanwhile, Clare Ballard of The Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative says South African prisons still had a long way to go in terms of improving the security of prisoners.

She says large scale organised crime was a direct results of corrupt officials.

COMMON CONCERN

Last week, human rights advocates and MPs were considering the introduction of surveillance cameras in prison cells saying the move would help prevent abuses behind bars.

This comes after inmates argued their right to privacy would be violated.

Lawyers for Human Rights attorney Hlengiwe Mtshatsha said cameras would reduce "a lot of the problems" prisoners experienced, such as physical attacks and rapes.

Constitutional law expert Advocate Chris Shone said he was in favour of the idea, as it would also help in the management of prisons, where overcrowded conditions contributed to abuses.

Section 35 of the Bill of Rights says that prisoners have the right to conditions of detention that are consistent with human dignity.

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