On 30 October, Sonke, JDI and Wits Justice Project made a submission to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services, urging for a strengthened and more independent Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services.
The Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) is a vital watchdog body that oversees South Africa’s correctional system, and is mandated to inspect and report on the treatment of inmates. To be an effective independent oversight mechanism for a correctional system that is mired with challenges, JICS requires strong institutional independence as well as support and cooperation from other departments such as the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), and the South African Police Service (SAPS). Just Detention International (JDI), Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke), and the Wits Justice Project (WJP) are concerned that JICS lacks adequate independence (including operational, financial and perceived independence) from DCS, and it is not sufficiently empowered to carry out its mandate to help protect inmates’ human rights. While the full submission outlines a number of important challenges facing JICS, our key recommendations are summarised here.
a. JICS’s governing legislation should be reviewed to enhance its structural independence from DCS. It must be administratively and financially separate from DCS.
Noting that the administrative intertwining of JICS and DCS has created operational challenges for JICS in the past, the Correctional Services Act (CSA) should be amended to make JICS administratively independent of DCS. The CSA should also be amended to remove any possibility for DCS leadership to exert political influence over JICS’s appointments. As financial independence is a hallmark of an independent oversight body, JICS should have a separate budget to that of the DCS, and this should be allocated directly from the Treasury.
b. The process to appoint the Inspecting Judge should be reviewed to enable stakeholder consultation, enable more rigorous vetting, and should remove the Minister of Correctional Services from the process.
At present, the Minister of Correctional Services nominates the Inspecting Judge, who is then appointed by the President. This is inappropriate for an independent oversight body. The Minister should be removed from the appointment process.
c. JICS should be given enhanced powers to have clear investigative powers comparable to the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality, to have the power to make binding decisions regarding the referral of criminal cases to the SAPS and NPA, and to make recommendations on the instituting of internal disciplinary proceedings.
JICS is weaker than other human rights oversight bodies such as the South African Human Rights Commission and the Commission for Gender Equality, as it is not mandated to investigate certain cases (it is required to report on certain issues), it is required to seek resolution internally within DCS, and it can only make non-enforceable recommendations. The Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services should review this and consider enhancing JICS’s mandate to investigate serious cases such as DCS staff involvement in alleged torture, assault, sexual abuse, and unnatural death cases. DCS must not be allowed to conduct internal investigations on these cases until JICS makes a binding decision regarding the referral of such cases to the SAPS and NPA, and until the JICS, SAPS and/or NPA have completed their investigations. Cooperation with JICS’s inspections and investigations should also be required in law.
d. The items that JICS makes mandatory reports on should be expanded to include other serious issues that are known to be systemic challenges within DCS facilities.
This should include issues such as sexual abuse, Tuberculosis, and high rates of HIV and AIDS. JICS must be specifically mandated to address these widely acknowledged challenges that it is currently failing to adequately identify in its reports.
e. Inmate awareness of, and training of Independent Correctional Centre Visitors (ICCVs), should be strengthened.
Noting that inmates often are unaware about JICS, all inmates – sentenced and unsentenced – must be informed about JICS and access to ICCVs. JICS should identify and examine issues that are blocking or hindering inmates from accessing ICCVs. Lastly, ICCVs training should include a substantial component on human rights in correctional centres and on the known systemic issues related to correctional centre reform, including those that are not adequately being captured by ICCVs, such as prisoner rape, and high rates of TB and HIV.
f. JICS should better leverage its access to DCS centres, be mandated to conduct thematic research on challenges in correctional centres, and make public reports on its findings concerning its investigations.
JICS has unprecedented access to DCS facilities and inmates, bringing vital transparency to a historically opaque department. JICS should take advantage of its unique positioning and conduct thematic research to better access challenges facing DCS facilities, and make such research publically available. Also, JICS is not barred from making media statements or ensuring widespread dissemination and comment on its public documents and reports. Yet, to date, it has not made any such statements or publically released its reports, aside from tabling it in Parliament and posting them on its website. As with other important watchdog bodies, alerting the public and key stakeholders to its findings is core to its mandate. While JICS’s visitors committees provide a forum for community engagement, there is little public awareness about JICS as an institution or the vital information it reports on. JICS should ensure the widespread dissemination of its reports and findings, including through press statements.
g. Lastly, JICS must be adequately resourced to achieve its mandate.
It is clear that a drastic expansion of JICS’s mandate and powers would require considerable additional capacity in JICS, and thus it must be adequately resourced in terms of its budget and personnel.
We thank the Portfolio Committee for the opportunity to make this submission.