Pollsmoor is no rehab

A rat infestation, causing the death of two Pollsmoor Prison inmates from leptospirosis, an infectious disease carried in rat urine, prompted a mass evacuation of 4 000 inmates to other prisons.

This prison is overcrowded by more than 250%. After an inspection, South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases said overcrowding, inadequate waste management and blocked drains contributed to the infestation.

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union’ (POPCRU) has condemned the continued “inhumane conditions” at Pollsmoor, describing them as a matter of national concern.

The union was disturbed by conditions at both the facility and the Women’s Correctional Centre at Pollsmoor and urged government to intervene as a matter of urgency.

Cells built to accommodate 30 people were holding as many as 80. Sanitary conditions are pitiful. Awaiting-trial prisoners are 300% over capacity. Thousands lacking bail are forced to remain in prison for years waiting for their trial to take place.

Popcru have stated: “Our view is that prisons should not be a death sentence… it’s meant to be a place where people can be rehabilitated.”

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, project co­ordinator at the Wits Justice Project in Johannesburg, stated that conditions at Pollsmoor have been an issue for a long time and are against everything that the constitution stands for.

Emily Keehn, a consultant with Sonke Gender Justice’s prisons programme, stated that if the department was conforming to the minimum standards, these deaths would not have happened. The prison has been overcrowded for the past 10 years. She said the government description of criticism of Pollsmoor as myopic was “disingenuous and out of touch with reality”.

Pollsmoor has been the subject of much scrutiny over the past few months. In early September, Edwin Cameron, a Constitutional Court judge, described being “deeply shocked” by the “extent of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, sickness, emaciated physical appearance of detainees.

He had visited the prison in April, and his report for the Constitutional Court describeed conditions as failing to comply with the standards of the country’s Bill of Rights and the Correctional Services Act.

Manelisi Wolela, spokesman for the Department of Correctional Services, said South Africa was dealing with an inhumane and brutal past. How much longer can this excuse be dragged out? Are the general public considered to be that stupid?

The reality is that most people become prisoners as a result of their environment and upbringing. Badisa handled almost 24 000 cases involving various forms of child abuse and neglect last year. Recently, to top it all, five children were removed from a family because they were so badly neglected, their fingers and toes had been eaten by rats.

Social services for the people of South Africa, from the bottom up, need to be overhauled and brought up to speed. This is a top priority. Total budgets need to be investigated with a huge magnifying glass and overhauled. Unnecessary “gravy train” expenses must be ditched. What is mentioned here is the tip of the iceberg. Funds crucially need to be re­distributed.

To deal with the prison problem, South Africa desperately needs more prisons, no overcrowding, and facilities for rehabilitation, so at least the inmates have a chance of starting a new life on release, rather than continuing on the same path. Otherwise, what on earth is the point of the incarceration? All the prison establishments in South Africa need to be thoroughly investigated.

The current conditions serve no purpose other than releasing more hardened criminals.