SAHRC finds correctional services responsible for prison riots

The correctional services department did not adequately address inmate complaints at Groenpunt prison, leading to riots there earlier this year, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has said.

“The complaint of violations to the right to human dignity, and the rights of arrested and detained persons is also upheld,” the commission said in a statement.

The SAHRC launched an investigation into the living conditions of inmates at the prison in Deneysville, Free State, following riots there in January this year.

The riots left around 50 inmates and four warders injured, the SAHRC said.

The commission’s investigation found against the correctional services regional commissioner for the Free State and Northern Cape and the head of Groenpunt prison.

Inmate complaints related to inadequate medical care and nutritional services, lack of rehabilitation programmes, case management committee sittings and decisions not being communicated to inmates, and inmate reclassification not being done regularly.

Further complaints centred on there being no maintenance or repairs at the prison, the conduct of the emergency support team during searches, the administration of appeals being slow, and the establishment of a prisoner’s management committee.

The SAHRC said the regional commissioner and the prison head did not comply with minimum detention standards in light of domestic law and international instruments.

“Inmates were not treated with the necessary respect towards their human dignity,” said the commission.

The investigation indicated that neither the regional commissioner nor the prison head took reasonable measures to ensure that inmates were provided with exercise, adequate accommodation, and reading material.

Adequate medical treatment was also not provided, with the standard of accommodation not in line with their obligations.

The SAHRC recommended the correctional services department and Groenpunt prison management must ensure inmates had access to rapid health treatment, and to social and psychological services within 12 months from the date of the commission’s finding.

“The department of correctional services and management of Groenpunt correctional centre must, with immediate effect, keep an eye on how food and supplies are distributed,” said the commission.

“To this end, they must ensure that all inmates get basic necessities, rations and that these are not intercepted by other inmates and/or staff.”

The department and prison management must improve patrols through systems where inmates could raise the alarm about corruption and irresponsible behaviour of officials.

Regular patrols and unannounced visits to cells, rapid access to the cells in the event of incidents and during lock-up also needed to be instituted within three months.

“Proper developmental and rehabilitative programmes must be developed and implemented in line with the departmental policies and regulations within six months from date of this finding,” the SAHRC said.

“Inmates’ complaints and grievances must be responded to timeously and handled appropriately with immediate effect.”

The SAHRC would regularly monitor the implementation of their recommendations, with the prison head needing to submit a written progress report at least every six months until all recommendations were implemented.

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