Pollsmoor con­di­tions still poor

Nutri­tion not suf­fi­cient

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - HE­LEN BAM­FORD

A FOR­MER prison doc­tor who blew the whis­tle on health con­di­tions at Pollsmoor Prison – los­ing his job in the process – says the sit­u­a­tion is still as bad as ever, if not worse.

And he be­lieves that pri­vatis­ing the ca­ter­ing at the over­crowded prison con­trib­uted to the poor nutri­tion of in­mates, lead­ing to dis­eases such as tu­ber­cu­lo­sis.

Dr Paul Theron, who was sus­pended in 2007 af­ter com­plain­ing about con­di­tions to the then-in­spect­ing judge of pris­ons, Nathan Eras­mus, said pri­vati­sa­tion was a “mon­ey­mak­ing racket” which en­cour­aged con­trac­tors to cut cor­ners and use cheaper foods.

“Even the way they sliced the bread meant there was less, and they served some kind of lard or mar­garine, not but­ter.”

Theron, who now works as a clin­i­cal foren­sic prac­ti­tioner at Som­er­set Hospi­tal, said: “There was a con­stant em­pha­sis on se­cu­rity yet the pris­on­ers were still un­der the con­trol of gangs when they were locked up.”

Gangs of­ten stole other in­mates’ food and with the nu­tri­tional value al­ready com­pro­mised, it had a big im­pact on health. “We also had to use th­ese elec­tronic tags, but they never worked and every­one was al­ways get­ting stuck and un­able to move around.”

Then Min­is­ter of Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices, Ng­conde Bal- four, who dropped a R500 000 defama­tion charge against Theron, was among those caught in the faulty sys­tem. He had been search­ing for Theron over a let­ter the doc­tor had writ­ten in sup­port of a staff mem­ber who had been sus­pended. But while on the warpath Bal­four got stuck be­tween two sets of gates and had to bel­low for help.

Theron said the whole sys­tem was “ripe for cheat­ing, steal­ing and ly­ing”. No one could un­der­stand, for ex­am­ple, why clean­ers from an out­side com­pany were brought in to clean the streets in the prison com­plex when the in­mates could have done it for noth­ing.

“They are locked up for 23 out of 24 hours and I’m sure would pre­fer to do the work.”

Iron­i­cally Theron now of­ten treats Pollsmoor pa­tients at Som­er­set Hospi­tal. They come to him via the courts.

It has given the doc­tor an op­por­tu­nity to re­alise that the sit­u­a­tion re­mains prob­lem­atic.

Theron said that he had hoped that the par­lia­men­tary port­fo­lio com­mit­tee would have ap­plied pres­sure af­ter vis­it­ing Pollsmoor, but it ap­peared that any im­prove­ments made had been su­per­fi­cial.

Theron said he didn’t re­gret be­ing a whis­tle-blower even though it had taken a heavy toll on his health. He col­lapsed and nearly died last year af­ter de­vel­op­ing pneu­mo­nia.

The Bosasa Group, which was awarded con­tracts worth R1.7 bil­lion by the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices, for ca­ter­ing, se­cu­rity and fences, is un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity’s Spe­cial In­ves­ti­ga­tions Unit.

The chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at the time, Pa­trick Gilling­ham, and chief ac­count­ing of­fi­cer, Linda Mti, have both been ac­cused of re­ceiv­ing mil­lions of rands in al­leged kick­backs. Op­po­si­tion par­ties also want Bal­four, now SA’s High Com- mis­sioner in Botswana, to ex­plain to Par­lia­ment why the Bosasa con­tract was re­newed when there had al­ready been al­le­ga­tions of sub­stan­tial mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion and sus­pected fraud.

PIC­TURE: JEF­FREY ABRA­HAMS

CON­CERNED: Dr Paul Theron says con­di­tions at Pollsmoor Prison re­main poor.

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