Prisons are traditionally made to deter bad behaviors and to reprimand offenders as a way to bring sanity in a society. But this has greatly been undermined as records of crimes committed in jails have continued to increase. Report shows that gang members have been successfully carrying out criminal activities right in their prison cells using social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Mxit and Outoilet.
According to confirmation made by Major-General Jeremy Veary, the head of Operation Combat, gang bosses in prisons often make use of social media to issue and control other criminal activities in the society.
Speaking in a press conference at police headquarters in Green Point where police top brass addressed gang violence in areas on the Cape Flats, Veary reported that large number of cell phones used for criminal activities were seized.
“Some Correctional Services report large numbers of cellphones that are seized. (In some cases) people planned to do certain things to other people. But those things are primarily detected because of the provincial team having a close relationship, operationally, with the prisons – even when it comes down to seizure operations,” he said.
The Major General also revealed that some gang members were caught connecting to other members outside using Facebook and WhatsApp from their prison cells.
These, according to him, had resulted in the prosecution of other alleged gang members linked to illegal activities, and the addition of further charges to already imprisoned gang members. He says this is not usually easy for the authorities to follow up.
“But, you should understand, there is an evidential standard that should be maintained in our courts and it is not easy just to say, ‘Take this Outoilet message to court as sufficient evidence’. Those are some of the challenges. But the monitoring has indeed assisted us, and produced great success, especially in prison gangs and communication between the outside and the inside that involves the use of social networks,” Veary said.
A 40-year-old resident, who spoke on conditions of anonymity for security purposes revealed how these gangs operate saying: “They (gang members) will put your name on Outoilet, and other social networks and you will know you are next. Do you know how many people have died this way, by being open targets on social networks? Who is safe when your face and your name can be found on Facebook and posted anywhere else. They can find you. There is nowhere to hide.”
Western Cape Community Safety MEC Dan Plato confirmed this assertion saying the gang members use the social media to their advantage and to intimidate and instill fear in people’s minds when they read their names on social networks.
“We are aware that gangsters do use social media, it will be very difficult to close down social media for them entirely” he said while conducting a walkabout in the area which aimed to inform the community about the Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca).
Though is entirely difficult to shut down access to social media usage in jails, a more tactical approach has been undertaken by legal authorities to monitor usage and crime activities by prisoners.