Inmate’s death at Mangaung Prison raises concerns about rising violence in correctional centres

While the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) remains ambivalent about the extent of violence under its watch, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (Jics), which champions the rights of inmates, said it was concerned about the escalation in the use of force at the privately run Mangaung facility in Bloemfontein.

Jics spokesperson Emerantia Cupido said the level of violence was of great concern and the Independent Correctional Centre Visitor stationed at Mangaung had reported that there were 178 incidents of use of force at the correctional centre between July 2019 until February 2021.

“Violence at Mangaung is not only limited to incidents of use of force,” Cupido said. She said the inspectorate, led by Inspecting Judge Edwin Cameron, was concerned about violence at the public-private partnership correctional centre operated by a consortium led by British security company G4S.

Cupido said from July 2020 to February 2021, there were 132 incidents/cases of assaults, with inmate on inmate violence prevalent and a major concern. Hence, she said a thematic inspection led by the Jics Legal Services team took place at the centre on August 12 and13, 2020 to establish the circumstances/causes of violence at the centre.

“The purpose of this inspection and the finalisation of the report was to present findings, discussions, conclusions and recommendations on complaints received by the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services on incidents of violence (including use of force) at Mangaung,” she said.

DCS spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the DCS management had been conducting operational visits to correctional centres across the country, checking compliance with policies and procedures.

“Mangaung Correctional is just one of the centres visited. Management was briefed about the stabbing incident, the inmates and that of an official,” he confirmed.

“There is violence in our centres. We have 243 correctional centres in this country and surely we would have informed the country if there was violence in any of them. Should there be any incident, it must be reported to our National Operations Centre and to Jics. All that is before us are isolated cases and we have the capacity to handle them. Hence we do not have violence in our facilities,” he said.

But according to Cupido, Jics was investigating the unnatural death of an inmate on January 27, where six inmates at Mangaung stabbed another inmate to death. The delay in finalising the investigation was partly due to some of the officials who were working shifts and were not always available.

“However, in general from my experience, gang violence in most prisons is always there and the officials try their best to curb it”

Jics had also been notified of the stabbing of an officer last weekend at Mangaung pertaining to the use of force that was used to subdue the inmate.

“The level of violence is of great concern to Jics. The thematic inspection report of August 2020 was finalised, with recommendations and was sent on 4 March 2021 to the Minister of Justice, Deputy Minister of Correctional Services, Portfolio Committee, the DCS National Commissioner and the management of the Mangaung centre,” she said.

Jics had been notified of the stabbing of an officer at Mangaung pertaining to the use of force that was used to subdue the inmate. The Jics regional office would be visiting the Mangaung centre next week after a slew of complaints from inmates at the centre, Cupido said.

Former prisoner Thulani Ndlovu, now a counsellor at The Aurum Institute in Parktown, said gang violence was prevalent at prisons in South Africa. “I have never been to Mangaung during my prison stay, but I knew people who went there, and we were corresponding; he was complaining about official brutality and always locked up due to prison violence.

“However, in general from my experience, gang violence in most prisons is always there and the officials try their best to curb it. However, they don't have the capacity or the intelligence, because in most cases they are responsive rather than preventative,” Ndlovu said.

*This article was originally published in the Sunday Independent.

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