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Pollsmoor remand facility still at 174% capacity, says Sonke Gender Justice

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Conditions have improved but not enough, says report

Photo of entrance to prison
Conditions at Pollsmoor’s awaiting trial facility have improved but not enough, says Sonke Gender Justice. Photo: Ashraf Hendricks
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Some progress has been made in reducing overcrowding at Pollsmoor’s awaiting trial facility but there is much more to be done, says Sonke Gender Justice in a response to the Department of Correctional Services’ action plan on problems at the prison.

The action plan was ordered by the Western Cape High Court after Sonke, represented by Lawyers for Human Rights, took the government and the head of Pollsmoor’s remand facility to court, in an attempt to compel them to correct the “appalling” conditions at the facility.

To reduce overcrowding among awaiting trial prisoners at Pollsmoor, many are being moved to other facilities in the Cape Town area. In turn, thousands of sentenced inmates are being moved from these prisons to prisons outside the Western Cape. Sonke said that simply moving prisoners was not “appropriate”.

The December court order stipulated that Pollsmoor’s awaiting trial facility must be reduced to 150% capacity within six months. In October last year the facility was at 249% capacity. As of 27 February, the facility was at 174% capacity, Sonke said.

Sonke said that while the reduction in numbers at Pollsmoor’s awaiting trial facility was “very welcome” Correctional Services did not provide “meaningful or thorough information” on how the department intended “to address and ultimately eradicate the poor conditions of detention” at the facility. Issues such as access to health care, exercise and poor sanitation had been raised during the court case.

Addressing the fact that prisoners are only allowed to exercise twice per week and not the stipulated daily one hour, Correctional Services said that this was due to overcrowding and the design of the building itself. They said that as the number of detainees reduces, the frequency of exercise would increase.

Sonke questioned this in its report, asking why Correctional Services hadn’t submitted plans to improve or change the design to “suit the purpose for which it was intended”.

Sonke also dismissed remarks by Correctional Services about staff shortages, saying: “inadequate staffing may be an explanation, but is not a justification”.

As for Correctional Services citing “budgetary constraints” Sonke said that this was not an adequate answer. Sonke urged the court to “require real and meaningful engagement” on the part of Correctional Services with other relevant role players such as the Ministry of Finance and the National Treasury.

Sonke also expressed concern over how the transferring of inmates would affect capacity at the prisons to which they were moved.

When GroundUp asked the Department of Correctional Service’s Singabakho Nxumalo about occupation rates at the facilities where the awaiting trial inmates from Pollsmoor were to be moved, he said that the Department would conduct weekly cell inspections at Pollsmoor, Goodwood and Malmesbury to ensure that they are all within 150% capacity.

Asked whether Correctional Services had approached the Treasury for funds to build an additional 3,000 beds for awaiting trial inmates in the Western Cape, as promised, Nxumalo didn’t directly answer the question. He said only that with the increasing number of offenders at the facilities, the Department “is left with no choice but to motivate to Treasury for new facilities to be constructed, especially in the major metropolitan areas”.

Sonke is asking the court to compel Correctional Services to provide information that was absent from the plan.

UPDATE: After publication of the article Sonke confirmed that the current occupation rate has dropped to around 161% and that they are happy with the progress that Correctional Services is making in decreasing overcrowding in the short term.

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TOPICS:  Prisons