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JDI-SA Statement in Response to Article ‘Prisoner left in cell with her dead baby’

  • July 23, 2014

The IOL article ‘Prisoner left in cell with her dead baby’ tells a devastating story of a prisoner whose baby died in a cell with her last week, and was left there for over two hours before officials arrived. The report states that this was despite fellow prisoners’ desperate attempts to alert staff. The tragedy points to grave, systemic problems in South Africa’s correctional and remand facilities, namely the practice of “lock-up” and the Department of Correctional Services staffing regime: these bring severe health risks and contribute to violence and sexual abuse. Lock-up sees inmates confined to their cells from mid-afternoon until the following morning. During this time, usually only a single officer is left to oversee an entire section of a prison, does not have access to the cells, and must engage in a lengthy process to alert assistance in the event of an emergency. Worse still, inmates have no reliable means to alert staff.

The work of JDI-SA and its partners has highlighted how this situation leaves inmates immensely vulnerable in medical emergencies and to violence. Lock-up and barely existent night staffing are absolutely inappropriate to a system that is, by its nature, required to operate for 24 hours a day and consistently ensure the health and safety of inmates in its care.

JDI-SA calls once again for DCS to urgently revise these systems. Perhaps this baby’s death could have been avoided altogether. Certainly, the mother’s horror of being locked up with her dead baby and without support could have been prevented. The importance of addressing this dysfunctional lock-up system and staffing regime cannot be overstated; they increase inmate vulnerability to dangers which devastate individual lives and play out in further violence, trauma, and ill-health in the families and communities to which inmates return.

Just Detention International-South Africa is a health and human rights organisation dedicated to ending sexual abuse in all forms of detention. JDI-SA’s research on DCS officers and violence — due for release later this year — describes a range of alarming implications for inmates and staff of the lock-up system and current staffing regime.