Remand cells 339.47% full
Inmates sleep in toilets, floors
The department of correctional services (DCS) Queenstown remand facility is overcrowded by 339.47%, forcing two to three inmates to share a single bed while others sleep on cement floors and in ablution facilities.
Some of the prisoners have had to be placed in the isolation cells used for punishment due to lack of space.
The prison, which has 387 inmates, only has bed space for 114.
The Rep witnessed this during a visit to the correctional services remand detainees’ facilities, led by Komani chief magistrate Victor Nqumse, with DCS Sada manager and area commissioner Ntomizakhe Puzi and other criminal justice system stakeholders.
The facilities’ crammed conditions are a serious health hazard and conducive to spreading contagious diseases, which inmates have complained about.
The stakeholder representatives were from the district’s National Prosecuting Authority, Legal Aid, SAPS, Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services, Impact of Independent Correctional Centre and department of correctional services.
During their interaction with the magistrate, prisoners said there were also not enough blankets for all of them to keep
warm. Some prison cells’ roofs had water leaks, leaving inmates drenched at night.
One inmate said: “We have to take turns to absorb the water with blankets.”
Another said: “We are sleeping in twos, some sleeping in threes, others on the floor, others inside the toilet.”
This grim reality has prompted the chief magistrate to open up this Pandora’s Box by working together with the department of correctional services and criminal justice system stakeholders to find a solution to the crisis.
Before the cell visits, Puzi had tabled a report painting a bleak picture of overcrowding
The Sada area manager said: “The bed space in different facilities in Queenstown is supposed to keep 114 inmates.
“This morning they have 387, which gives us a percentage of 339.47 %.”
Out of the 387, she said 12 were sentenced and 375 were remand detainees.
Puzi said the Ngcobo facility was overcrowed by 205%, with 74 beds and 152 offenders, while the Cacadu facility was overcrowded by 180%, with space for 50 inmates but housing 90 offenders.
“As the government, our performance is also measured by overcrowding.
“We are not supposed to exceed 150% in overcrowding.
“This percentage was requested by the Western Cape where we were required to take some of the inmates.”
She said the facilities’ buildings were also being negatively impacted.
“They are sleeping on the floors. In terms of the Human Rights Act that is not supposed to happen.
“Some have committed serious crimes and they cannot be taken out but those who get R300 bail for minor crimes, we need assistance with those.”
Puzi said facilities faced the challenge of not being able to separate inmates in different categories. Adults were meant to be separated from younger inmates.
She said facilities were overpopulated due to the high incidence of remand detainees.
“We also have mental cases where inmates are receiving treatment.
“We have inmates for more than two years in our facilities, others for three years awaiting trial.
“I am also sitting with this challenge in other centres outside of Chris Hani.”
Addressing the stakeholders, Nqumse said: “The purpose of the day stems from the previous visit to this facility which I reported at the stakeholders meeting, where I encouraged every member to experience and witness what I saw.”
The chief magistrate said he did not just want the group to witness the conditions prisoners were being kept under but to come up with solutions.
“The call is to think innovatively, outside the box.
“I have already spoken about this with the magistrates on how we can juggle around this tension.
“It is a dichotomy, there is a call to clean our streets from offenders and another is the issue of overcrowding in our facilities. How do we balance the two?” he said.
“We are here to share ideas and advise one another on how to deal with the situation.”
During his previous visit and interaction with inmates, their charges, length of time in custody and bail amounts were looked at.
“Going forward, let us have the practice to avoid the habit of bails set at R500 and R300 because the intention is clear that you want that person out of prison. It is either we [give] out a warning or we set meaningful bail amounts if it is clear they have the means.”
Nqumse said he was aware that communities even wanted someone who had stolen polony to be in custody.
“But I, having judicial discretion, have to ask if he should be in custody for doing so.
“The prosecution will keep asking for bail and I understand where they are coming from,” he said.
“But we as judicial officers must balance these interests if we are serious about this project that we have.”
Nqumse believed building another facility in Komani was not the solution as it would be full in no time.
He the issue was not the justice department’s alone.
The chief magistrate said he had also discussed the sensitive issue of sentencing with magistrates, challenging them to consider community-based punishment.
“It would require other stakeholders to come together where we get offenders to do garden work, paint the police stations, because that inmate will have to report somewhere and will have to be supervised to ensure they complete those hours.
“Instead of the person coming to stay in Sada prison for three months and being fed, can that person not do something meaningful for the community?”
Nqumse is responsible for 12 courts in the district, which includes Komani, Whittlesea, Simo, Ntabethemba, Tarkastaad, Hofmeyr, Steinberg, Bergerdorp, Venterstad, Ezibeleni, Molteno and Sterkstroom.
SAPS’s Colonel Christiaan Strydom said the drive for weekend arrests also contributed to overcrowding in prison cells.