South Africa Prisons like in most countries of the world have been reported to be overcrowded and this has resulted to series of health hazards but for South Africa, the case seem to be worse as was reported by the United Nation’s Human Rights Committee.
Overcrowding in prisons has been one of the disturbing issues SA government is faced with especially as it impedes the rights of prisoners to ensure conditions of detention were consistent with human dignity as enshrined in the constitution.
UN committee placed South Africa prisons to be places where basic requirement such as food, exercise and ventilation are inadequate and that the “deplorable” situation of was as a result of increasing criminal acts such as gang violence, sexual abuse and torture. Overcrowding was at the core of its concerns, it said.
Institute for Criminal Policy Research revealed that there are just under 160000 people in South African jails which presents about 40000 more than the prisons could accommodate according to figures provided by Justice Minister Michael Masutha to the National Council of Provinces.
According to Sunday Times, the UN committee based its report on submissions from NGOs, including a joint one from the Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative, Just Detention International, Lawyers for Human Rights and the South African National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders.
The organisations’ document pointed out that violence among prisoners is prevailing.
“The overall impression … is that South Africa prisons are particularly violent and that interactions with police and experiences in police custody are also frequently violent and too often fatal,” said the submission.
“Sexual abuse in places of detention is a widespread problem that directly infringes on the right to personal safety and freedom from violence for far too many inmates in South Africa.”
The report said conditions in detention did not meet the standards set by the government, which, according to the Correctional Services Act, must be safe and hygienic, and provide inmates with adequate food, bedding, clothing, exercise and healthcare.
“In reality, however, prison conditions in numerous facilities across South Africa are a far cry from those required by law,”
“Many facilities battle with extreme overcrowding. This results in crowded cells which hold double or up to three times the number of prisoners they were designed for.” the report said.
However, the Department of Correctional Services says it believes it can change the “deplorable” conditions over the next three years.
To the department spokesman Manelisi Wolela, R2.6-billion would be spent during that time aimed at improving all South Africa prisons.
“This will help reduce pressure on our infrastructure, while creating a more humane condition of incarceration,” he said.
More to this, following the claims of torture in St Albans Prison, Port Elizabeth, made by former prisoner Bradley McCallum, UN’s panel of experts has queried the South African delegation on the treatment of prisoners, particularly on allegations of torture.
Prisoners have on several occasions reported being sexually assaulted with batons, kicked and punched, and had dogs set on them and UN Human Rights Committee member Yuval Shany said government has to do its best to meet the standard it has set for itself regarding conditions of inmates.
“The problems faced by South Africa are not unique, but they are on the more worrisome side…We have asked the state for some explanations, and we did receive explanations to say that they are taking measures to address this. But it seems to be a very long process.” he said.