Pollsmoor Remand court case in response to overcrowding to be heard December 2016

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’), will be heard in the Western Cape High Court.

Since March 2014, Sonke and Lawyers for Human Rights have been tracking complaints of severe overcrowding and its effects in Pollsmoor Remand. Lawyers for Human Rights monitors overcrowding levels on a weekly basis and as of 24 October 2016, Pollsmoor Remand was operating at around 249% capacity, accommodating 4032 detainees. This is 2413 detainees more than the number for which it is approved.

The appalling conditions of detention were described extensively in a report1 by Constitutional Court Justice Edwin Cameron following his visit to Pollsmoor Remand in April 2015. The report, released in August 2015, described conditions at Pollsmoor Remand as ‘deplorable’, ‘profoundly disturbing’ and ‘vulnerable to constitutional challenge’. Shortly thereafter, two detainees died after having contracted Leptospirosis, a disease carried in rat urine.

In December 2015, Sonke, represented by LHR, filed an application against the Government of South Africa in the Western Cape High Court challenging the conditions of detention at Pollsmoor Remand.

Overcrowding remains unchanged

When the Portfolio Committee for Justice and Correctional Services and the National Council of Provinces Select Committee on Security and Justice visited Pollsmoor Remand in October 2016, they found that overcrowding at the facility remains unaddressed.

High levels of overcrowding have severe consequences for the conditions of confinement and the treatment of detainees. Current as well as former detainees have reported on significantly unhygienic conditions, such as bucket toilets, woefully insufficient ablution and cleaning facilities and having to sleep on damp floors.

Overcrowding is a human rights violation

Conditions of detention such as those at Pollsmoor Remand amount to a violation of detainees’ constitutional rights to be detained in conditions consistent with human dignity and to be free from cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. Detainees are constitutionally guaranteed the right, at minimum, to adequate accommodation, exercise, nutrition, medical treatment and reading materials. The Correctional Services Act provides further minimum standards for the confinement of detainees and sentenced inmates. As the Sonke application makes clear, such standards are being routinely flouted by the Department of Correctional Services.

Sonke and LHR would like to continue to work with the Department of Correctional Services and to offer informed recommendations on the steps towards providing prisoners with humane conditions of confinement. This litigation is a measure of last resort that follows years of unsuccessful attempts at engagement with the Department of Correctional Services by a number of dedicated civil society organisations.


Lawyers for Human Rights:

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

Sonke Gender Justice:


  1. http://www.constitutionalcourt.org.za/site//PVisits/PrisonVisits.html