The most recent inmate numbers show that the country’s prisons are 37% overcrowded, with 162 875 prisoners against an accommodation capacity of 118 572 bed spaces, the Department of Correctional Services has confirmed.
And this overcrowding is likely to increase.
Department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the “disturbing picture” could become a norm in some correctional centres if not managed properly.
“What cannot be undermined is that overcrowding in correctional facilities could lead to poor conditions, thus making it difficult to create and maintain humane conditions which will adversely hamper the mandate of rehabilitating inmates,” he said.
The department had a legal mandate to enforce sentences of the court through a warrant of detention or committal and had no legal powers to refuse detention of inmates on the basis of inadequate bed space and other factors resulting in overcrowding, Nxumalo continued.
To deal with overcrowding, it among others manages “levels of sentenced offenders through improving effective and appropriate use of conversion of sentence to community correctional supervision, release on parole and transfers between correctional centres to attempt to establish some degree of evenness of overcrowding”.
Upgrades and the building of new prisons are also undertaken Nxumalo said, and community correctional supervision was also enhanced to be better used as an “appropriate sentence for less serious crimes”.
Nxumalo said its strategy was “making some difference for Correctional Services, despite the stubborn pressures of incarceration forever increasing due to high crime levels”.
News24 earlier this year reported that the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) said that correctional centres were generally 150% full and that overcrowding at prisons across the country means that those awaiting trial or the finalisation of legal proceedings sometimes end up without a bed, bedding or even a uniform.
This was according to a survey conducted in which a percentage of inmates were asked about their living conditions. A total of 1 099 remand or awaiting trial inmates at correctional centres in East London, Potchefstroom, Goodwood, Pietermaritzburg and the Kgosi Mampuru II centre in Pretoria were questioned.
The number of inmates who slept on beds varied greatly, with 96% at one centre on beds, while in another, 66% of those surveyed did not have beds.
In a 2016 judgment in the Western Cape High Court, Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town was ordered to ensure its remand facility was not more than 120% full.
Working to increase bed space
Nxumalo said the department has been working on increasing bed space in order to relieve pressure on overcrowded facilities, especially those in metros.
“Our infrastructure projects are progressing well in terms of upgrading and building new centres that are rehabilitation-oriented,” he said.
“Standerton and Estcourt Correctional Centres were officially opened in April and May 2019 respectively. The two centres combined provide 1 998 bed spaces. We are now awaiting the official handover of the Tzaneen Correctional Centre from the contractor, and, when combined with the refurbished Glencoe Correctional Centre, these will provide 1 101 beds by September 2019.”
A new correctional centre is also being contracted in Parys, Nxumalo said.
“The reengineering of the criminal justice system, moving towards the Integrated Justice System (IJS) will assist in fast-tracking some of the cases which takes longer to be resolved. The category of inmates driving serious overcrowding in the metros is remand detainees – trial awaiting persons – as centres outside major cities are not overcrowded.
“One area of attention will have to be given to people incarcerated for minor offenses with an option of a fine but cannot afford it. These are usually short sentences.
“Other progressive means will have to be explored in future should it happen that overcrowding has reached unprecedented levels. For now, the correctional system can hold but alternative means to direct incarceration could also be another area to be explored in future by the judiciary.”