Considering the important role played by effective and independent prison oversight bodies, and the current problems plaguing JICS, there is a need to take action to ensure JICS’ efficacy. In particular, some recent Constitutional Court judgments – such as Glenister v President of South Africa – have described the minimum requirements for independence, and these should be applied to JICS.
Sonke, as well as other relevant NGOs and coalitions (such as the Detention Justice Forum), have made multiple attempts to engage the Department of Correctional Services as well as JICS itself with regards to JICS’ shortcomings. Yet these efforts have produced little to no results.
Between 2011 and 2016, numerous discussions have been held by the Portfolio Committee for Justice and Correctional Services (“the Portfolio Committee”) regarding the independence of JICS. Sonke and various other stakeholders have provided input on how the mandate and structure of JICS should be amended, and the Portfolio Committee has, at least annually, undertaken to improve the independence of JICS by initiating the amendment of JICS’ empowering legislation. That no progress has been made in a period of five years, despite such undertakings, indicates that parliamentary engagement has failed to motivate legislative reform. In the meantime, inmates continue to suffer from the conditions in prisons.
Therefore, Sonke is now pursuing litigation as a mechanism of last resort to facilitate the legislative reformation of JICS, in order to strengthen its oversight functionality and promote accountability at correctional centres.