South Africa

GroundUp: Prisoners relocated after riot at correctional facility

By GroundUp 7 July 2017

Inmates staged sit-ins and hunger strikes over long backlogs for parole. By Ashleigh Furlong for GROUNDUP.

First published on GroundUp

A number of inmates at prisons involved in protests against the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) have been transferred to different sections of their prisons or moved to isolation.

GroundUp was told that Westville prisoner Erwin Christmas, the first applicant in a successful court case for parole brought against the Department, has been moved to isolation.

The Department said it was unable to give detailed responses to questions relating to individual offenders or security operations, but confirmed that inmates had been relocated.

The KwaZulu-Natal High Court ruled on 25 May that the applications for parole of nine lifers at Westville Correctional Centre must be processed “with immediate effect” and that they be considered even if reports from social workers and psychologists had not been completed.

The Department has applied for leave to appeal the judgement. Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha said at a press conference last week that the judgment could have “devastating” consequences as inmates may be released without the correct assessments being completed.

An inmate in Westville told GroundUp that they are currently preparing court documents to oppose Christmas’s isolation. He believes that Christmas is being kept in isolation because Christmas was preparing to launch another court application for an additional 54 lifers who are also waiting to be considered for parole.

Department spokesperson Logan Maistry was unable to provide further information regarding Christmas’s relocation, but said that there are “processes that DCS must adhere to including reporting the matter to the Inspecting Judge [the judge appointed by the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services who oversees prisons]”.

Violence broke out at Kgosi Mampuru II in Pretoria on Sunday 2 July, with protests continuing at a number of correctional facilities on Monday 3 July. Most of the protesting inmates were sentenced to life imprisonment before 1 October 2004 and are eligible to be considered for parole.

Large backlogs in the consideration of parole have resulted in protests at various prisons around the country.

The Department confirmed this week that some inmates were transferred after the protests.

Maistry said that following the riot at Kgosi Mampuru II on Monday, 3 July, “certain offenders refused to open their cell, blocking the cell door with lockers, and threw boiling water at officials”.

“Officials had to respond accordingly with minimum force, to gain access to the cells and inmates. As part of the operation, at least 54 cell phones and related devices, as well as other contraband, was confiscated,” he said.

GroundUp spoke to two inmates who said that more than ten lifers from Kgosi Mampuru II were transferred from their cells and moved to a section called New Lock. They say they are being held in a basement used as an isolation unit.

GroundUp has seen a photograph of an official form notifying an inmate of his disciplinary hearing, where the inmate is charged with creating and participating in a disturbance that “is likely to jeopardise the security and order of the centre”. Other charges included:  “disobeyed a lawful order by DSC management and failed to comply” and “used threatening language against correctional officials”.

A prisoner told GroundUp that at least two of the inmates who were moved  were appointed by their fellow inmates as representatives following a previous sit-in at the prison. GroundUp has also been told that lifers and non-lifers are refusing to work in protest over the relocation of their fellow inmates. This could not be independently confirmed. DM

Photo: This is a screengrab from a video taken during a riot at Kgosi Mampuru II on Sunday 2 July. Video supplied.

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