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57 unnatural deaths in SA prisons

Self-harm accounted for more than 45 percent of all unnatural deaths recorded in prisons.

Self-harm accounted for more than 45 percent of all unnatural deaths recorded in prisons. Picture: EWN

CAPE TOWN - At least 57 unnatural deaths have been reported in South African prisons over the past financial year, the Department of Correctional Services revealed on Thursday.

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

Of the unnatural deaths recorded in prisons between 1 April 2012 and 31 March 2013, 26 were as a result of suicide. In all but five cases, the victims hung themselves.

Nine prisoners died at the hands of fellow inmates and two others were assaulted by prison officials.

In 16 of the deaths reported, the cause was cited as unknown.

Department of Correctional Services Chief Security Officer Gcinumzi Ntlakana says the number of deaths is higher compared to the 2011/2012 financial year when 46 incidents were recorded.

"It is concerning to the extent that we would want to see those numbers dropping. We are working on reducing those stats."

Ntlakana believes the department is making strides in reducing the number of deaths in custody.

He said the number of unnatural deaths reported seven to ten years ago was much higher.

However, the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative (CSPRI)'s Lukas Muntingh believes officials are not doing enough to prevent incidents of suicide.

Self-harm accounted for more than 45 percent of all unnatural deaths recorded in prisons in the 2012/13 financial year.

Muntingh says the department has, in some cases, identified a prisoner as a suicide risk but failed to take preventative measures.

"In the prison system of England and Wales, suicide watch is a high priority for that system. I'm not convinced that prevention enjoys the same priority here."

According to the department, most suicides happen after hours and in single cells.

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