Contact: Sasha Gear
Programme Director,
Just Detention International
Tel: +27 11 728 6299

Nomonde Nyembe
Policy Development and Advocacy Associate, Sonke Gender Justice
Tel: 011 339 3589
Cell: 076 100 6156
Fax: 011 339 6503

Press Statement by Sonke Gender Justice and Just Detention International on the Department of Correctional Services and Judicial Inspectorate’s Annual Reports 2012/2013

  • October 3, 2013

October 3, 2013. Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke) and Just Detention International (JDI) have made a submission to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services regarding the Department of Correctional Services (JICS) and Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Service’s (JIC) 2012/2013 Annual Reports.

It is estimated that 35% of inmates are HIV positive — a prevalence that is three times the national average. Sexual abuse of both awaiting trial and sentenced inmates is a widespread and devastating feature of life in DCS facilities and dramatically increases the likelihood of HIV transmission within this high-risk environment.

Strong accountability mechanisms are required to ensure DCS delivers on its mandate to advance inmate health and rights, yet JICS, the oversight body for DCS, lacks financial and administrative independence and has no enforcement powers.

JDI and Sonke are encouraged by recent policy reforms that commit DCS and JICS to more proactive approaches to addressing sexual violence. However, we remain concerned that DCS is not giving sufficient attention to the health and safety of inmates who live in its centres, which in turn, has grave consequences for society as a whole. While our full submission outlines a number of additional important concerns, our key points are summarised here.

JICS independence: We support JICS in its call for functional independence and strengthened powers, including investigative and enforcement powers akin to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (‘IPID’).

Deaths in custody: We are concerned about the increase in suicides amongst inmates, and support DCS’ recommendation that it develop a screening tool to assess inmates’ risks for attempting suicide. We call on DCS and JICS to investigate possible causes for the spike in suicides. Where possible, medical records should be analysed to evaluate, post-­‐mortem, whether a victim of suicide was also a victim of sexual violence. The classification of ‘natural deaths’ needs to be reconsidered since certain conditions, tardy medical response to inmates for example, contribute to inmates deaths that are currently classified as ‘natural deaths’.

HIV testing and treatment: We congratulate DCS for exceeding its targets related to HIV testing and ARV enrolment. However, a system of monitoring and accountability is required to ensure that inmates who have started treatment do not default due to stock-­‐outs and other impediments. Defaulting on treatment can result in drug resistance, which puts HIV-­‐positive inmates’ lives at risk, and contributes to public health challenges.

Sexual Violence: While JICS provides disaggregated statistics on sexual violence, separate from the general assaults category, DCS still does not do this. We congratulate DCS on adopting the Policy to Address Sexual Abuse of Inmates in DCS Facilities, and for committing to instituting pro-­‐active measures to prevent, detect and respond to sexual violence against inmates. We noted that DCS is in the midst of preparing an implementation plan for this critical new policy, and Sonke and JDI offer our continued support to the DCS in its efforts to address sexual violence.

We are concerned that only one incident of sexual violence was reported and documented. Sexual violence is gravely underreported in prisons, and we urge both DCS and JICS to focus on improving knowledge of sexual abuse among its own staff and inmates, and encouraging the reporting of such abuse.

Investigations:  We urge JICS to report on the outcome of its investigations in its future Annual Reports, especially those concerning serious abuses and inmate deaths. For example, the Annual Report does not elaborate on the outcomes of investigations at Groenpunt Correctional Centre, where an inmate was killed by DCS officials. Reporting on these investigations would be in line with its legislative mandate to report on human rights violations in DCS facilities.