Prisoners complain about the excessive use of force by prison officials


The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) said it has been approached by inmates, officials, and associations representing inmates, to address the alleged excessive use of force by correctional officials on inmates.

JICS spokesperson Emerantia Cupido said the use of force increased by 126, between 2019 and 2020. She said those were the mandatory statistics officially reported to JICS, by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), throughout the 2019/2020 year.

She said, however, mandatory statistics provided by the DCS on July 3, 2020, were at variance with its updated report and showed gross under-reporting.

“JICS is currently waiting on the DCS 2020-2021 statistics. However, the use of force increased by 336 between 2020 and 2021, but these figures still need to be verified,” said Cupido.

Cupido said 149 cases involving the use of force were reported to JICS during the quarter (January 1, 2021 – March, 2021).

She said given the lack of a functioning reporting system, the reports received from the DCS could not be verified and were likely to be under-reported.

Cupido said the majority of reports received on the use of force were for the defence of another person (an official or other inmate).

According to the statistics provided by JICS, the Western Cape had one case of self-defence, and 19 cases of defence of any other person.

SA Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights president Miles Bhudu said the DCS has a notorious unit, called Emergency Support Team (EST) that was given a mandate to go on a rampage, to allegedly assault and brutalise prisoners, searching for contraband and cellular phones.

Bhudu said it is ironic that the same cellular phones were brought inside by their colleagues. He called for the department to re-train the EST and the ordinary warders, on their responsibilities and mandates.

SA Sentenced and Awaiting Trial Prisoners Organisation chairperson Phindile Zweni said the EST unit’s officers thought they were above the laws of the country.

Zweni alleged that the unit has been allowed, by the senior management, to act as such, saying they have never been challenged in court.

When the Cape Argus enquired with the DCS spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo – on whether the department received complaints, and whether there were officials suspended on the matter, and what does the department do to deal with complaints related to the use of force by its officials – Nxumalo said the enquiry must relate to a particular incident, because he was not aware of any recent case alleging assault and brutal prison searches.

Cupido said that was one of the reasons why a webinar has been scheduled, themed “Excessive use of force in Correctional Centres: The role of DCS, JICS and Civil Society” which JICS will be hosting on Thursday and Friday, next week.

-Cape Argus

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