'Money can buy you a good lifestyle in prison'

Experts and inmates say SA's are prisons improving, but serious concerns remain.

Experts and inmates say money can buy you a certain 'lifestyle' behind bars. Picture: freeimages.com.

PRETORIA - The state of prisons in South Africa has improved but there are still serious concerns, says Professor Lukas Mutingh, project coordinator of the Civil Society of Prisons Reform.

One thing that remains consistent with views from experts and inmates is that wealth will buy you a "lifestyle" behind those bars.

The state of South African prisons has come under the spotlight as sentencing arguments were heard in the Oscar Pistorius case.

The Blade runner's fall from fame means Judge Thokozile Masipa must decide if he will serve a sentence behind bars after being found guilty of culpable homicide for killing his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, or if he will be placed under correctional supervision.

In aggravation of sentencing state prosecutor Gerri Nel called acting National Commissioner for Sorrectional Services Zach Modise, who painted a glowing picture of life at the Kgosi Mampuru Prison in central Pretoria.

Mutingh has been involved in criminal justice reform since 1992 and says there have been some improvements in prisons, but there are still serious concerns regarding personal safety and sexual assault.

"If everything was well then Parliament's Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services would not have asked the department for a turnaround strategy. The quality of services rendered are also been questioned."

Mutingh says that every prison will have its downfalls and strong points.

"There are some prisons that are well run. It all boils down to management of the facility. There are those that comply with legislation. The management structure of the department must ensure that there is adherence to police and legislation that ensure that minimum standards are maintained across all 237 prisons."

The professor says that there are instances where inmates are treated with faint disregard for the Constitution which states that all citizens be treated with dignity and respect.

An inmate at the Kgosi Mampuru prison, who spoke on condition of anonymity to EWN via a cellphone, said that although there are some improvements, corruption and greed by wardens will alllow criminal elements to invade correctional facilities.

"On the inside you are fine if you can buy your way around. Cigarettes and a little money goes a long way. It buys you protection from other inmates, and it gets you leeway with wardens. This is just the way it is and will never change. When wardens stop being greedy then something might happen but until then, 'imali' rules our prisons."

He says inmates have different views on what will happen if Pistorius has to change his striped suites for an orange overall.

"Many believe he won't even see the silver of these bars. Others have mixed views. But he has money. If he mixes with the right people he will be fine. He will probably go to the hospital section like where Jackie Selebi was, and you ask him if he had one bad day here. He lived like a king."

Pistorius will be sentenced for the Valentine's Day shooting on Tuesday, with the state calling for nothing less than a 10 year sentence to be handed down.