Babies behind bars to get better start
Initiative aims to create child-friendly prisons
POLLSMOOR Prison has a new inmate – just a day old.
The mother, a prisoner in the female section, gave birth yesterday, bringing to 14 the number of babies behind bars at the Tokai prison.
The issue of babies behind bars, some of them up to 15 months old, came under the spotlight yesterday. The Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Hlengiwe Mkhize, launched the Imbeleko Project at Pollsmoor, an initiative to improve the lives of children locked up with their mothers.
Mkhize said the project focused on creating a childfriendly environment inside the prison by converting cells into suitable mother-and-child units, as well as finding alternative placements for children once they were two years old.
In terms of the Correctional Services Amendment Act, proclaimed last month, a woman can have her child with her in detention only until the child is two, as opposed to the previous age limit of five.
Mkhize said the visits to jails had shown that incarcerating children with their moth- ers for long periods negatively affected their growth.
She said the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders agreed in a 2006 study – “The Influence of Imprisonment on infants and children incarcerated with their mothers” – that the facilities catering for infants and children with their incarcerated mothers were a restrictive environment hampering the child’s psychological, cognitive and social development.
The 14 mothers at Pollsmoor are serving sentences for a variety of offences including murder, arson, theft, fraud and forgery, and they range in age from 20 to 46.
There are an estimated 121 babies in prisons nationally, with the most (54) in Gauteng. The Western Cape has 20 as does KwaZulu-Natal, while the Eastern Cape has just two.
The Imbeleko Project, which refers to the act of carrying a baby on the back, has already been rolled out in Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.
The Inspecting Judge of Correctional Services, Deon Hurter van Zyl, said the project’s launch was an important step forward.
Inmate Fadia Poole, who spoke at the launch, said prison mothers were grateful they were allowed to bond with their babies.
“We feel that the appropriate age is two for them to stay with us, although some feel that three would be better.”
Poole said five years was too long, because the children would then remember being in prison even though they had committed no crime.
But she said they requested that once their babies did leave prison, they would be permitted to visit their mothers at weekends.
TOUGH TIME: Cindy Khumalo, 24, walks along a 1km prison corridor to the mothers’ section of Pollsmoor Prison with her three-month-old son.
CELL MOM: Samantha Jacobs, 32, with her 13-month-old son who has spent his life in prison. A project is underway to improve the lives of children incarcerated with their mothers.