In the past, solitary confinement was primarily used as a means of punishment and, according to International Human Rights Law, constitutes torture.
Investigative Journalism - Prison and Conditions
The question is why does the government not focus more on keeping people out of prison – a more cost-effective and humane solution?
While many prisoners in SA live in overcrowded, inhumane conditions often inconsistent with human rights, billions of taxpayer rands are invested in prisons every year.
The line between legitimacy and vigilantism has been blurred as prisoners accuse the fear free life group, established to alleviate drugs and gangsterism in prisons, of allegedly operating much like a gang in some Gauteng prisons.
Anyone who still thinks SA’s prisons are luxury hotels should think again – particularly about the underlying reasons why inmates died, warders were critically injured and cells set alight during rioting at Leeuwkop, Krugersdorp, St Albans and Johannesburg (Sun City) prisons late last year.
Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights challenged the life-threatening conditions in the prison last week before the high court in Cape Town. In their application for a supervisory interdict, they claimed the overcrowding in the remand section is a violation of constitutional standards.
British security firm G4S, which runs Bloemfontein’s Mangaung prison, has denied lawyers access to a prisoner who claims to have been shot in the head with a rubber bullet by a warder.
The next day, we visited Robert*. After his conviction in April, he was moved to the sentenced section of the prison. Hopes of a shorter waiting period at this part of Pollsmoor are dashed when a steady queue builds up at dawn, as the first sun rays pierce through the grey clouds above Cape Town. Six hours later, Robert appears on the other side of a chipped and grimy cubicle.
Justice Edwin Cameron has recently published a report on his visit to Pollsmoor Prison in April. He said he was “deeply shocked” by the “extent of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, sickness, emaciated physical appearance of detainees”, and that the “overall deplorable living conditions were profoundly disturbing”.
The DCS took over Mangaung prison in October 2013, when security behemoth G4S lost control of the prison, amid a spate of stabbings and a hostage taking, which followed a protracted strike and dismissal of about two-thirds of the staff. In August last year DCS handed back the prison to G4S. The Minister of Justice, Michael Masutha, visited the jail shortly after the handover and stated that he was “very impressed with the state-of-the-art facility”. But Masutha made no mention of the DCS investigation which his predecessor, Minister Sbu Ndebele, announced when the news of gross human rights violations – including routine assaults, electroshocking, forced injections with anti-psychotic drugs and lengthy isolation of inmates – broke.