What has been the impact of the case?

In response to the court order, the Department of Correctional Services made the decision to move nearly all sentenced inmates from Pollsmoor and Goodwood to other prisons in the Western Cape and other provinces to make room for remand detainees. As a result, there was a notable reduction in overcrowding over the course of the following six months, and on 30 June 2017, overcrowding levels had been reduced to 148% of Pollsmoor Remand’s capacity – the lowest level of overcrowding in the facility since 2002. However, the target of 150% capacity has not been uniformly achieved month-to-month. As of April 2018, overcrowding levels were 169%. Sonke has therefore approached the court to secure a plan for monitoring the Government’s compliance with the court order. Sonke also continues to monitor Pollsmoor Remand’s reports and statistics.

It is notable that the court order did spur some cooperation among criminal justice departments to address some of the causes of overcrowding in remand detention. The Government’s final plan to improve conditions in Pollsmoor Remand indicated that they would be applying to the courts to review bail conditions of detainees accused of non-violent offenses and those too poor to afford a small cash bail. Further, the Government adjusted the procedures for these bail review applications so they could be filed in bulk, which increases efficiency.

In fact, the Government’s Action Plan and compendium status report provide for several improvements to the conditions and facilities at Pollsmoor Remand, including the following:

  • Detainees will be allowed to exercise at least four times per week;
  • An Assault Prevention Plan will be developed to reduce physical violence within the Centre;
  • The general hospital ward stock and emergency medication have been increased;
  • Condoms are easily available, TB and HIV prevention campaigns are being conducted, and remand detainees receive TB and HIV screenings upon admission and release;
  • Detainees are receiving three meals a day (though not within the prescribed intervals);
  • All detainees are currently sleeping on beds, as opposed to mattresses or the floor;
  • All detainees are provided with clean blankets;
  • Detainees have adequate access to hot water and ablution facilities are now all in working condition;
  • Improved lighting and ventilation (due to decrease in overcrowding);
  • Improvements to the provision of hygiene items; and
  • Improvements to the provision of reading material.

Though these are undoubtedly positive undertakings by the Government, it will be essential to monitor their continued implementation and maintenance. Furthermore, it is will necessary to follow up on some of the proposals in the Action Plan, which as questionable. For example, according to the Correctional Services Act, detainees have the right to exercise every day (as opposed to four times a week) and the right to receive meals within adequate time intervals (currently, detainees have reported waiting 20 hours between meals).

Other thanFinally, in addition to its substantive impact, the case has also had a positive effect in terms of raising awareness on inmates’ rights. The hope is that prison advocacy will be further enhanced and applied to confront other problematic prisons in the country.