“It always seems impossible until it is done.”
— Nelson Mandela (former inmate at Pollsmoor Correctional Centre).
As part of an historic court decision in December 2016, the Western Cape High Court ordered the government to reduce overcrowding levels at Pollsmoor Remand Detention Facility (RDF) to 150% by the end of June 2017. As of 30 June 2017, the Department of Correctional Services’ (DCS) official statistics showed that for the first time in more than a decade, Pollsmoor RDF was operating at 147.62% of its approved capacity as a result of sustained efforts of DCS and the broader criminal justice sector.
These efforts include the relocation of sentenced inmates from Pollsmoor, Goodwood and Malmesbury Correctional Centres to make space for remand detainees. The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services staff also report that they have seen a significant improvement since the judgment. Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke) and their legal representatives in the case, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), wish to recognise the DCS’s achievement in taking steps to reduce overcrowding and improve the living conditions of inmates. Sonke and LHR hope to see overcrowding at Pollsmoor RDF continue to decline with this continued effort by the Minister and the DCS.
However, significant challenges still remain.
In its judgment, the High Court also held that the government had failed to provide the inmates with adequate exercise, nutrition, ablution facilities and health care services – a constitutional obligation owed to all inmates – and ordered the government to formulate a comprehensive plan to address this. While the DCS, through consultation with the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS), has developed a plan to address a number of these issues, other deficiencies highlighted by Justice Cameron’s report on Pollsmoor RDF in 2015 remain.
The Minister’s final report states that the prison’s ablution facilities cannot be increased because the building’s plumbing does not allow for the installation of additional sinks, showers and toilets, but the plan does not include any further steps to remedy this, such as seeking to rehabilitate the building and improve its plumbing. Further, inmates are currently still not being provided with meals according to the intervals prescribed by the Correctional Services Act, with inmates having to wait more than 14 hours between supper and breakfast the next morning.
Finally, the Minister’s report claims that ventilation has been improved, but provides no evidence regarding the quality of ventilation. Sonke and LHR continue to appeal to the DCS to allow an independent body to conduct an assessment of the facility’s quality of air and ventilation to verify this claim.
Sonke and LHR are hopeful that the DCS and broader JCPS cluster will continue to demonstrate collective political will to ensure safe and humane conditions for detainees in Pollsmoor RDF and other facilities in line with our Constitutional values and look forward to working with government, including National Treasury, and other civil society partners to realise the human rights of inmates in South Africa.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION PLEASE CONTACT:
Sonke Gender Justice: Ariane Nevin, National Prisons Specialist – 0832550963, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lawyers for Human Rights: Clare Ballard, Attorney (Head of LHR Penal Reform Programme) – 0746265071
Afrikaans and isiXhosa speaking media contacts are also available on request.