Warders’ jobs are hard labour

  • Aarti J Narsee
  • January 28, 2015
  • The Times

On any given day a single prison official can find himself up against 100 to 350 inmates.

Poor working conditions, long hours and fearing for your life are normal for prison officials.

These conditions are highlighted in a report released today by human rights organisation Just Detention International South Africa after it conducted research in a Johannesburg correctional facility.

“It’s luck that we survive every day,” one officer told the researchers.

The report reveals that:

Between four and 14 warders supervise 1,200 to 1,400 prisoners on any given day;

At night there is a “stark absence” of staff, rendering those on duty “relatively ineffective”;

Officers on night duty often work two 18-hour shifts back-to-back; and

At weekends, only half of the officers are on duty.

Last week, nine warders suffered a suspected gang-related attack at Drakenstein prison, near Paarl in the Western Cape.

The Department of Justice and Correctional Services reported in its 2013/2014 annual report that 682 of its 41825 staff members had been injured on duty that year. Two died and 10 were permanently disabled.

Officers told researchers of hot porridge being thrown at a warder and another official hit with a padlock when opening a cell.

One warder saw his colleague stabbed to death by an inmate.

The report related an incident in which a fire broke out in a cell at night when an official was on duty alone. He was unable to help in time and one inmate died.

Sasha Gear, programme director for JDI SA, said problems facing prison officials were the same across the country. Officials were under “emotional and psychological strain”.

One warder explained: “You wouldn’t understand the baggage that we carry . There is this violence that nobody notices – the psychological [damage] that has been done by the system, the department, to its own officials.”

Another described feeling “overstretched and unsupported”.

“What about my security? Sometimes I am alone here with plus/minus 300 prisoners. I am a human being, I get impatient. Sometimes I get violent towards them, because I feel that no one is helping me.”

Justice and Correctional Services spokesman Manelisi Wolela said prison officials had the most stressful job in law enforcement.