News | Covid-19
The Covid-19 vaccine roll out has finally reached South Africa’s prisons and the first inmates over the age of 60 have begun to receive the jab countrywide.
Workers and inmates have raised various concerns suggesting it is urgent that vaccines are received in the correctional services environment.
Although, Phase 2 of the roll-out has been criticised as slow, the Department of Correctional Services has assured the nation that the vaccination prisoners was well under way and on time in terms of the national government’s three-phase plan.
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Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said Phase 2 allowed for prisoners over the age of 60 to begin receiving jabs and as the roll out progresses, the rest of the prisoner population would follow.
“Every institution in the country is guided and following the prescripts by the Department of Health on the vaccination roll out. Even in correctional settings, it is only inmates who are 60 and over receiving the jabs. When the country moves into the age categories of 49 and above, the same will happen in our facilities,” he said.
A total of 13,989 inmates are now out on parole as part of the government’s Covid-19 parole dispensation. Initially the government aimed at releasing 19,000 prisoners as parolees, but many have since picked up further charges, bringing the target down to 17,000. Those remaining from the identified group are completing the programme and will be considered for release by the parole boards.
The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services says it has seen an improvement in the overall overcrowding concerns in the prison environment. According to the JICS spokesperson Emmarentia Cupido, the prisoner population in South Africa is expected to have decreased in the past year, thanks to depopulation initiatives by the government.
The department was expected to release the final figures for the last year soon, according to Cupido. In 2o2o, the prisoner population fell to 154,437 from 162,875 in the previous year.
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Concerns have been raised that safety protocols are not being adhered to at correctional services offices, according to the Public Servants Association.
The union raised the alarm management about the DCS offices in Hatfield, Pretoria which failed to isolate staff members who come in contact with positive cases and deep clean the premises. This after it is said a number of staff members recently tested positive for Covid-19.
Despite the department denying this, the PSA is threatening to take the matter up with the national government including the health and labour departments.
“It is highly disturbing to learn that Correctional Services deliberately contributes to the increase of the spread of Covid-19 in the Gauteng province while the country is still grappling with vaccinating population,” says PSA spokesperson Reuben Maleka.
“Officials in DCS are aware and constantly reminded about the scourge of Covid-19 and the need to protect themselves. When showing symptoms, they know that they do not have to report for duty. They also know the steps to be taken when considered to be contacts with a positive case,” argues Nxumalo.
“Covid-19 has been with us in the country for over a year now. What will suddenly make us neglect our staff members? Hence we are saying we can’t honour a malicious statement with a response.”
At the same time prison rights activist Miles Bhudu says incarcerated members of his group, SA Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (SAPOHR), are growing increasingly concerned with the lack of information given to prisoners about the roll out. He says overcrowding and social distancing issues persist in facilities despite efforts to control the situation.
“When we supported that we must start with prisoners but on the outside there was a negative response. The prisoners themselves said they wouldn’t allow them to be vaccinated because they thought the system wanted to use them as guinea pigs. We are now concerned that we don’t have any information as an organisation and if there was any such information we should have been informed about it by our members.”
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