The time to fix our Correctional Centres is now

The Department Correctional Services in South Africa continues to experience intense challenges after 24 years of our democratic breakthrough. Perforated with challenges ranging from overcrowding, staff shortages, ailing infrastructure and lack of resources to appropriately meet its rapidly increasing demands, it has in many ways lost the opportunity to implement its core task, which is to rehabilitate inmates.

During the course of this week alone, we have witnessed events that are clearly remnants of these broader managerial challenges that have consecutively been at the centre of the crisis the department finds itself.

Last Sunday night, 6 inmates escaped from the Pollsmoor Correctional Centre in the Western Cape, a facility that is currently standing at an overcrowding rate of 252% in their remand facility.

On Monday, prison officials at the Mdantsane Correctional Centre downed tools due to concerns about their safety, which led to correctional authorities having to postpone all special programs due to unavailability of manpower. In that centre alone, it was expected of  25 correctional officials look after 1462 inmates in line with the current shift patterns, clearly placing their lives in danger.

On Tuesday night at the Leeuwkop Correctional Centre, there were gang-related altercations which led to the killing of an inmate, while others were injured. The situation came about on the basis of an instruction from the regional management to dissolve the juvenile section of the centre and distribute them across all other management areas, therefore adding extra burden of the already lacking capacity for correctional officials.

These and many others have become common daily realities of many correctional officials, and what continues to be  common about all these incidents that took place within days apart has been the shortage of manpower in containing the emergent altercations, effectively meaning that if inmates so wish, they could just literally walk out of incarceration and no one will have any capacity to halt them.

With the total number of 236 operational correctional centres in the country at an official capacity rate of 120 000, and a daily growing prison population of over 160 000 inmates, not much progress has been seen due to the fact that the staff complement stands at 34 000 expected to decrease. This situation represents the 11th highest prisoner population in the world in terms of sheer numbers, giving an occupancy rate of 133%.

The South African correctional system currently struggles to accommodate an actual population; the degree of overcrowding varies, with most severely overcrowded facilities accommodating as many as 60 inmates in cells intended for 18 inmates.

Noting that the staff complement of 34 000 is currently facing major challenges like the termination of contract learners, whose contract has now been extended by a month, the employer claims they won’t be able to absorb them due to lack of funds. This is happening at a time when training colleges can only have a yearly intake of 1000 trainees, whom beyond conclusion will be deployed across correctional centres that have a daily increasing population.

The challenge of insufficient staffing is, in some cases, triggered by resignations which are at times influenced by moratoriums on promotions which limits opportunities for succession planning whilst the absence of a clear career path also demoralise employees. Consequently, some employees view their employment within Correctional Services as merely a stepping stone to a career elsewhere due to these impasses. POPCRU has for long been calling upon the Correctional Services to ensure that grievance procedures are properly adhered to and employees’ concerns are addressed timeously and fairly. This has not happened.

Equally important is the proper implementation of signed resolutions. It is disheartening that the Correctional Services failed to properly implement GPSSBC Resolution 2 of 2009 which was signed to introduce 7 Day establishment as well as a new shift system. The non-implementation of this Resolution is another challenge which has demoralised officials, consequently leading to a large influx of resignations. The management has not been doing its utmost best to avoid these types of resignations, which could have been resolved by properly implementing signed Resolutions and maintaining high morale as this is of a significant value, more so in a workplace whereby staff operates under conditions of physical and psychological strain.

Furthermore, there should be improved measures in place to ensure the security of staff while they are conducting their duties, this should be coupled with the provision of safety equipment when required to curb incidents of attacks on members, and the payment of danger allowances.

These challenges have had a multiplier effect; exposing weaknesses in administrative practices of correctional facilities whilst compromising the well-being of both correctional officers and the offenders. Over and above physical and emotional constraints, these calamities have limited the prospect for proper implementation of effective programs of rehabilitation as officials are simply unable to deliver comprehensive programs due to overcrowded facilities coupled with inadequate human resources. This also impinges the safety of correctional officials, who are often attacked by gangs; a common scenario we have come to see as normal under the circumstances.

Part of the mistakes committed by the department of Correctional Services has been the introduction of outsourcing and privatisation. These have had adverse effects on inmates’ labour and social reintegration, which added on the mammoth challenges faced by Correctional Services today.

Approximately 85% to 94% of inmates in our country re-offend after their release, which means the current system of rehabilitation needs to urgently be redefined because in the current, our prisons are far from being conducive to fulfilling the rehabilitation process needed.

The gruesome approach of Private-Public-Partnerships (PPPs) has also demonstrated to consume most of the Department’s budget, and we are of the view that this approach was misapplied, which has negatively impacted on the level of skills that that offenders were acquiring before its introduction.

Due to very little technical and life skills of the inmates, survival outside of the prison environment becomes very difficult and many tend to re-offend because in their view life is easier in prison. This is counter-productive to the fight against crime and corruption

There is currently a huge expenditure on the Department of Correctional Services’  budget, and we are of the firm view that prisons should be self-sufficient insofar as food production through farming, the production of offender uniforms, furniture, both steel and wood as well as inmates’ beds and lockers, the general maintenance and repairs, etc.  Most farm prisons like Baviaanspoort and Zonderwater in Gauteng including others in Mpumalanga, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal and Western Cape have land which should be utilised for food production as this will cut down of costs. The training and development in the workshops should be reignited to address the idling of inmates currently underway. This will in the immediate address the challenges of gangsterim.

Inmates should equally be integrated into rural development projects that will assist with our national developmental goals as a way of paying back to the communities they have wronged, instead of being spoon-fed through taxpayers’ moneys while remaining idle.

Our view on this matter is that inmates’ employment within the facility will contribute towards their rehabilitation, self-worth, dignity and skills development, all characteristics so vital towards the eventual successful reintegration into society. This will also reduce the levels of criminal activities common within prisons.

 We believe that time spent in incarceration must never be about inmates being idle and just lazing around for twenty-four hours on every day of their term of imprisonment. All inmates must contribute towards the running costs and decent up-keeping of all Correctional Centers. There should no longer be warehouses where people are stored until their release dates.

It is due to these web of challenges which captured Correctional Services that offenders are regularly locked up for the greater portion of the day and in some instances, are only afforded an hour outside to exercise. This practice is in contradiction with the Correctional Services’ vision of contributing to a just, peaceful and safer South Africa through effective and humane incarceration of inmates, rehabilitation and social reintegration of offenders.

Additionally, effective budgeting, tight fiscal control and sound financial planning are other measures which will ensure that correctional facilities have sufficient resources to effectively render their services in-line with their constitutional imperative.

POPCRU will be holding its Collective Bargaining and Policy Conference over the weekend, and central to the discussions will be the deliberations on finding ideal methods for policing and corrections in our country. It is in every citizen’s interest that these matters are addressed.