No sex please and get on with your duties, prison warders warned

Johannesburg - Warders caught having sex with inmates will be fired and the offenders stringently dealt with, warned prison authorities during a briefing on the progress of 17 200 inmates eligible for parole to tackle overcrowding in the country’s prisons.

The stern warning came from the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services on Wednesday during a presentation by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) on the steps taken over the release of offenders to ease the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.

Chairperson of the sub-committee on corrections, Qubudile Dyantyi said they had also received a briefing regarding the alleged cases of sexual misconduct between inmates and officials, as well as measures put in place to address such incidents.

The committee heard that although this seldom occurs in the DCS workplace, it was “regarded as despicable and unfortunate”. The DCS said these acts of misconduct defeat the mandate of the department and as a result, brought the department into disrepute.

In the latest incident, an official caught on camera having sex with a prisoner has been dismissed and the offender downgraded to a maximum offender status and transferred to a different facility.

Furthermore, the department said drastic action had been taken in the past to deal with those involved in such incidents which were impacting on the safety and dignity of women and men in corrections.

Dyantyi said the DCS had a long way to go in fulfilling its mandate.

“You can excel at everything else but if you are struggling at your core mandate of rehabilitation, it does little to assist. You are never going to get restorative justice if you don’t attend to those issues,” he said.

The committee heard that the disciplinary code and procedure must be consistent with the principles of administrative justice, while ensuring effective and timeous action in instances where the safe, secure, and orderly management of a correctional institution is at stake.

Therefore, officials in Correctional Services must be continuously exposed to training and awareness campaigns, the committee heard.

Inmates serving a life-sentence for sexual offences; murder and attempted murder; sedition; high treason; sabotage, and terrorism; gender-based violence; child abuse; and offenders declared as dangerous by a court are not eligible for parole as part of a special dispensation.

Almost 14 000 low-risk inmates have been released since May 2020, while 100 individuals returned to prison.

In its presentation, the department said the release of thousands of inmates on parole was a highly manual process, without the use of technology in monitoring of offenders. But they were considering using the services of Big Brother drones to monitor thousands of parolees, along with a new electronic monitoring system to be implemented.

The electronic system will provide the DCS with real-time situational awareness of parolees’ location once released from a prison. The information would be relayed to a central location for monitoring and decision making in case of contravention of the parole conditions.

Turning to the offenders benefiting from the Special Parole Dispensation, the committee heard that they would continue to be rolled out from May 20, 2021 in controllable groups as per identified category and sentence group.

Initially, it was forecast that about 19 000 offenders who committed non-violent crimes would benefit from the special dispensation.

Regions were provided with the list to verify. This resulted in a purified total figure of 18 544. Other offenders that had been identified to qualify picked up further charges, hence the drop of qualifying cases to 17 922.

Last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa approved the placement of selected categories of sentenced offenders on parole to fight the spread of pandemic in correctional facilities, which were said to be high-risk areas of infection.

The committee heard that community correction creates a conducive environment for the reintegration of parolees and probationers through supervision, monitoring and rehabilitation and ensures that parolees and probationers comply with conditions of the parole.

The DCS ensured that probationers and parolees complied with their set conditions despite an increase in the caseload.

Restorative justice processes are to be implemented with some restrictions, in line with Covid-19 regulations, to ensure the participation of victims and offenders.

Parole boards must ensure victim participation prior to considering offenders for parole. Communities must be prepared for the release of parolees and probationers to ensure effective reintegration and reduce reoffending.

Dyantyi asked the department for a written response regarding the number of women in brown uniforms.

“How many of them are in management positions and how many are foot soldiers who interact daily with inmates? What support do they get to execute their work, infrastructure support and security support?

“One is picking up a sense of vulnerability when it comes to their role and what they do,” he said.

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