Historic victory for detainees awaiting trial in Pollsmoor

Today as we honour Nelson Mandela’s legacy on the anniversary of his death, we celebrate a court ruling of which he would have been proud – and one that reflects his commitment to the values of our Constitution.

On 5 December 2016, the case launched by Sonke Gender Justice (‘Sonke’) and Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), in response to the extreme overcrowding and inhumane conditions suffered by detainees awaiting trial in Pollsmoor Remand Detention Facility (‘Pollsmoor Remand’), was finally heard by Judge Saldanha in the Western Cape High Court.

Sonke and LHR are pleased that after waiting almost a year after filing the case, the court found in their favour and declared that the Government’s failure to fulfil its obligations in terms of the Correctional Services Act is unconstitutional.

Speaking after the hearing Ariane Nevin, National Prisons Specialist for Sonke Gender Justice said: “This order is a victory for all remand detainees, not just those held in Pollsmoor. Today’s ruling establishes that the Government has a constitutional obligation to address overcrowding and the inhumane conditions in prisons.”

Government has been ordered to:

  • Reduce overcrowding to no more than 120% of its approved capacity – unless it can show good cause as to why they cannot by Wednesday 21 December.
  • Develop and file a comprehensive plan, by 31 January 2017, including timeframes for its implementation, which addresses and will put an end to: “the deficiencies in the provision of exercise, nutrition, accommodation, ablution facilities and healthcare services to the inmates of Pollsmoor RDF; and the deficiencies identified in Prison Visit Reports by Justice Cameron, dated 27 July 2015 and 13 August 2015 (the Cameron Report).”

This legal precedent will assist remand detainees, and hopefully sentenced inmates, to secure their rights to conditions of confinement consistent with their right to human dignity.

Clare Ballard, attorney and Head of LHR Penal Reform Programme said: “Given that this is the first case of its kind to come before the courts, the applicant and LHR are optimistic that this will lead to further and future improvements in the South African penal system. This is truly historic moment for prisoners rights.”


Lawyers for Human Rights:

  • Clare Ballard, Attorney (Head of LHR Penal Reform Programme) – 074 626 5071

Sonke Gender Justice: