NEWS & ANALYSIS

Understaffing real cause of prison escapes – POPCRU

Union enraged by DCS’ scapegoating of officials at Johannesburg Correctional Centre

POPCRU enraged by the DCS’s scapegoating measures

23 April 2018

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) has noted with concern the arrest of two prison officials and the suspension of three others at the Johannesburg Correctional Centre, all of whom are alleged to be involved in the escape of the sixteen awaiting trialists.

We have also noted the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) and Parliament’s Justice Portfolio Committee’s disappointing and short-sighted remarks on this matter of escapes, which has given an impression that they are either ignorant of the realities within Correctional Centres or have chosen to overlook the bigger problems therein by focusing on only condemning the remnant issues.

In their statement last week Thursday, the Committee Chairperson, Dr Mathole Motshekga is quoted as having expressed concern for the escapes, and therefore expecting all accounting officers and the executive authority to inform the committee of plans on the way forward to prevent escapes.

Further, the Gauteng Correctional Services Commissioner Grace Molatedi expressed her disappointment by the prison officials, saying it goes against their ethos and mandate.

What is most disheartening by these expressed comments is the fact that they do not seem to broadly engage on the deteriorating Correctional Centres conditions that have either seen an increase in escapes, an increase in altercations and an increased lack of infrastructural integrity within these centres. Theirs has been a reactive and misleading impression aimed at demonstrating to the gallery that they are taking swift action, and solely placing the problem of escapes on correctional officials.

It is worth reminding ourselves that in June 2017, Dr Motshekga and the committee he chairs went on oversight visits across the country, which was aimed at identifying challenges within centres, on wasteful and irregular expenditure among others. They then committed that they would look into the challenges wholistically, and where needs be, implement legislative interventions. Nothing significant has been done thus far.

We view this approach by the DCS management as a discredited and exposed methodology of scapegoating to hide their self-inflicted failures.

The section within which these awaiting trialists escaped houses a prison population of 600, all of which are manned by 8 officials during the week, and only 4 over weekends. The illegal shift patterns employed in the facility is such that officials work from 3pm to 8am the next day, and have been a contributory factor. They have been designed in such a way that officials knock off at 11pm, while the department doesn’t provide transport, which has forced members to work 2 shift patterns on-end.

The infrastructural integrity of the centre has dilapidated beyond living conditions, with permanent water leakages susceptible to airborne diseases. This is part of the reasons why the escaped inmates could have easily penetrated the said wall.

Each cell meant to house 18 inmates has been housing over 50 inmates at the centre, so the challenge of overcrowding and understaffing remains a reality and a contributing factor as well. This logically means that correctional officials are left incapacitated to manage the affairs of the centre in a satisfactory manner, and their safety is always of high concern.

To fuel matters worse, the Treasury has also instructed the DCS to cut down on its establishment despite this huge shortage.

Early last month at the Mdantsane Correctional Centre, correctional officials downed tools over similar concerns of safety, and the DCS is fully aware of these concerns.

Since the escape, officials have been treated badly, facing extreme working hours that extend beyond their call of duty, while some are expected to report to duty in the early mornings. They continue to work under bad working conditions which management is failing to address, which include the lack of uniforms, illegal shift patterns, the bad implementation of grade progression among others.

We fervidly disagree with Dr Mathole Motshekga when he says that these escapes do not reflect the lack of leadership, but rather a problem of a corrupt element which is found throughout society.

The real danger to South Africans is that currently, 85% of those released from Correctional Centres are reoffending, demonstrating that there is no rehabilitation within these centres.

The real danger is that taxpayers’ monies are being utilised for tenders over things that the very inmates could produce, which would afford them sufficient skills to sustain themselves after incarceration. This would see our centres becoming self-sustainable.

The DCS management should also be charged. It is they who have presided over a DCS that has failed to implement its core mandate, it is them who have failed to ensure conditions within which our correctional centres operate are conducive to the needs of inmates and correctional officials.

Statement issued by POPCRU, 23 April 2018