The average inmate population of 161 818 in the 2018/19 financial year reflects a significant decrease by 4 769 compared to the 166 587 figure in 2000/2001 financial year. This indicates a 2.94% decrease of inmate population over a 19-year period, the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services heard yesterday.

The Department of Correctional Services appeared before the Committee on Justice and Correctional Services yesterday, to brief the committee on, among other things, the security and overcrowding in correctional facilities and present the report of the Commission for Gender Equality on assessment of Correctional Service Centres on the Health and Welfare Services for Female Offenders.

The committee heard that over the last 19 years, the availability of beds in South Africa’s correctional facilities reflects 15% growth as there were 100 707 beds in 2000/2001 financial year and 118 572 in the 2018/19 one.  

The department told the committee that it regards overcrowding as a serious challenge that undermines all its efforts, and internationally benchmarked strategies to reduce the inmate population.

The committee heard the negative impact of overcrowding on security in the correctional services centres. According to the department, inmates apply bullyism and gang culture to get scarce resources such as hot water, sleeping mattresses and beds.

Overcrowding makes the separation of “first time offenders” from “hardened criminals” not always possible, it compromises the security of officials and renders them vulnerable to mass attacks, including been taken hostage by inmates, cells cannot be effectively monitored and smuggling of illegal material into the cells takes place.

The Chairperson of the committee, Mr Bulelani Magwanishe, expressed his concern over overcrowding, arguing that it could be taking the department back to it being merely providing security instead of rehabilitation to inmates. He asked the department about what it does in the event of commitment of acts of corruption, does it apply the Prevention of Organised Crimes Act, especially in relation to asset forfeiture?

The committee heard that the department has a multi-pronged strategy in place to attempt to deal with overcrowding. The strategy includes managing levels of remand detainees through the Integrated Justice System Case Management Task Team, and Inter-Sectoral Committee on Child Justice, and managing levels of sentenced inmates through improving effective and appropriate use of conversion of sentence to community correctional supervision, release on parole, and transfers between correctional centers to attempt to establish some degree of evenness when it comes to overcrowding;

“The reality of our correctional system is that the population of inmates exceeds the accommodation capacity of the Correctional Services facility. This overcrowding negatively impacts on humane incarceration, rehabilitative and human rights imperatives of the correctional centre’s mandate. Correction is a societal responsibility, which requires all sectors to advance the cause of addressing the moral fabric and its regeneration,” said Mr Magwanishe.

By Rajaa Azzakani
05 September 2019