Correctional Centre Overcrowding: Department of Correctional Services briefing

Correctional Services

15 September 2009
Chairperson: Mr V Smith (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The DCS gave a presentation to the Committee about overcrowding and management of correctional service facilities. Overcrowding was attributed to a number of causes. Statistics were given for the numbers, which showed that in June 2009, there was a total inmate population of 163 108, which was accommodated in 237 active correctional centres. These centres should only have housed 114 822 people, which meant that there was 142.58% overcrowding. This was showing a decline since 2004. 71.17% of offenders had been sentenced, and 28.3% were awaiting trial detainees. The breakdown of males and females, and figures across different centres, were given. During this financial year there would be accommodation for almost 4 000 inmates. A number of reasons were given. 70% of all offenders had either committed sexual or violent offences, and 75% of Awaiting Trial Detainees (ATDs) were not eligible for bail, and, once sentenced, would receive longer sentences. Since 1996 the percentage of offenders serving sentences of more than 10 years increased, while the percentage of offenders in all shorter sentence categories decreased. In addition, overcrowding was exacerbated by magisterial boundaries within courts, DCS and police services, making it difficult for transfer, there was lack of support systems for detainees, difficulties in establishing addresses that could be monitored, and blockages within the criminal justice system further delayed cases. The Department intended to create Remand Detention Facilities that would secure only remand detention offenders. The Department also had drawn up measurable objectives for reducing levels and detention periods.

The Committee felt that the DCS was not showing enough urgency in making efforts to reduce the detention time of ATDs, in implementing electronic monitoring, satellite tracking and rehabilitation programmes, and in improving the functioning of Case Management Committees (CMC) and staff capacity within the DCS. Further, it refused to believe that addresses could be a major reason for overcrowding, based on the fact that there was not sufficient staff capacity to monitor the processes of ATDs. The Committee questioned the cost of the feasibility study for new facilities and the cost of new prisons and was of the opinion that more could be done within the present structure functions. It also noted that this presentation and the Annual Report had given different reasons both in relation to the delays in implementing satellite tracking, and in the video installations, and that this would need to be addressed. Members were also critical of the fact that those offenders imprisoned for six months or less were not put through rehabilitation programmes, and asked what had been done in the Cluster to try to ensure that other sentencing options were considered.

The Commissioner said that he would convey the seriousness of the Committee’s frustrations to the Department and welcomed a meeting with the Committee where they could share information on exactly what they were doing. 

Meeting report

Correctional Centre Overcrowding; Department of Correctional Services (DCS) briefing
The Chairperson said that he was aware that the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) senior officials were engaged in a meeting with the Parole Board, but requested that all questions by the Committee be answered and not deferred as the Committee’s programme would be affected if questions were deferred to members of the Department who were not present.

Mr Willem Damons, Chief Deputy Commissioner: Security, DCS said that he, together with Mr Lucky Mthethwa, Director: Corrections Administration, DCS, were managing overcrowding of the inmate population in South Africa. He apologised for the absence of the national Commissioner of Correctional Services and senior national team who were in Gauteng. He then briefed the Committee on the problem of overcrowding in the correctional centres.

He noted that as of 30 June 2009 a total inmate population of 163 108 was accommodated in 237 active correctional centres, which approved accommodation for 114 822 inmates. Two centres, one in the Western Cape and one in the Eastern Cape, were inactive. The total inmate population overcrowding was at a rate of 142.58%. This had decreased since 2004, when overcrowding was at 164.25%. The accommodation capacity had increased from 112 941 to 114 883. Sentenced offenders represented 71.17% of the total inmate population. Awaiting Trial Detainees (ATDs) represented 28.83% of the total inmate population, totaling 47 021 inmates. This number consisted of 994 females, with 19 females under the age of 18 years old, and 46 027 males, with 670 males under the age of 18.

Creation of additional capacity for a total of 3 956 inmates would be created this financial year, and it was named as one of the measurable targets, which was due for completion in the following financial year.  Accommodation gain targets were listed as including Kimberley, due to hold 3 000 inmates by the end of October 2009, Vanrhynsdorp, which would house 328 inmates by 31 March 2010, Warmbokkeveld, which would have accommodation for 282 inmates by 6 June 2010 and Brandvlei, to house 346 inmates by August 2010. .

The statistics for overcrowding in the metropolitan areas were listed as East London (201%), Mthatha (206%), Pollsmoor (223%), Durban (164%), Johannesburg (235%) and Pretoria (194%). In Malmesbury Medium B, which had an over-population of 200.56%, 90% consisted of ATDs. In East London Medium B with an overcrowding of 201% population, 98% of the population was ATD. Page 15 of the attached presentation listed the population level per correctional centre.

In the first quarter of 2009/10, those committing sexual offences made up 18 380 of offenders and those committing aggressive offences totaled 63 445. These two categories made up more than 70% of offences. These figures had fluctuated minimally since the first quarter of 2008/09. Since 1996 the percentage of offenders serving sentences of more than 10 years increased, while the percentage of offenders in all shorter sentence categories decreased.

In terms of the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA) Section 63A, when a correctional centre was overcrowded and conditions were inhumane, the centre could apply to court for release of a certain number of offenders. Section 63A was signed by all Ministers involved with criminal justice processes.  In terms of Section 63(1), an individual offender or his attorney could apply for amendment of bail conditions.

Overcrowding was exacerbated by magisterial boundaries within courts, DCS and police services, making it difficult for transfer. Over 75% of ATDs had no bail option as they were accused of aggressive and sexual crimes, so there were thus no diversion options for those offenders in terms of Section 63A of the CPA. Lack of support systems for detainees and monitorable addresses delayed efforts for diversion or transference from correctional services, and blockages within the criminal justice system (CJS) impacted negatively on detention times of ATDs.

National action plans, monitoring and reporting relating to both ATDs and sentenced offenders had been developed and implemented. The National Overcrowding Task Team (NOTT), Regional Overcrowding Task Team (ROTT) and Management area Task Teams (MOTT) were operational and overcrowding was now identified as a corporate risk number 2. Progress on overcrowding and officials’ responsibilities were being managed by the Risk Management Committee.  The DCS was presently establishing Remand Detention Facilities (RDF) to reduce ATD time.

 Key solutions included implementation of an integrated National Criminal Justice Information System (IT infrastructure and national database across the different departments) to facilitate more informed strategies for decision-making and for building partnerships in line with corrections as a societal responsibility, both with civil society and government departments in the
Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS) and Social Sector.

It was also necessary to ensure that there was proper progress with the DCS capital works programme to upgrade correctional facilities and building of cost effective and rehabilitation-orientated correctional centres. Further debate was required on incarceration as a sentence, rehabilitation, supervision for less serious crimes, conversion of sentence to correctional supervision, release on parole, and transfers to establish evenness of overcrowding.

The Integrated System Case Management Task Team & Inter-Sectoral Committee on Child Justice aimed to manage levels of ATDs and overcrowding and to utilise specific correctional centres exclusively for accommodation of ATDs to enhance their effective management.

The DCS would continue its current intervention processes to strengthen partnerships in line with corrections and down-manage the inmate population, which was still not satisfactory.

Ms M Phaliso (ANC) said that 15 years down the line, the problem of overcrowding was worrying. The
Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) Policy Document of 1996 stipulated that accommodation of detainees who were arrested for allegedly committing an offence had the right to human dignity, so that their accommodation had to meet certain standards, which was not presently the case. She believed that ATDs should not undergo the correctional sentence experience. She asked what was the average time spent by ATDs in correctional centres.

Mr Damons said that during the 15 years mentioned the DCS had initiated programmes and initiatives on how to rehabilitate offenders. As with all departments, DCS had the problem of insufficient social workers, psychologists, and other health professionals for the different categories of offenders. The DCS subscribed to the minimum international rules for incarceration of offenders in terms of detention, accommodation and all minimum requirements. Since 2005, Parliament had approved a White Paper on Correctional Services to enforce policy. He noted that of the 47 000 ATDs, 1 600 were in the system for two years or longer. Therefore 46 000 were there for less than two years. Of those in the system for over two years, 6 were in the system longer than seven years, and 40 ATDs served periods of five to seven years. These statistics were presented to criminal justice structures.

Ms Phaliso asked why the DCS did not allow for constitutional provisions in all areas to better accommodate detainees, since the reason for overcrowding in metropolitan areas was attributed to the multitude of courts available.

Mr Damons said measurable objectives in terms of reduction level and detention periods were approved last month, and would be presented to Parliament by the Minister of Justice.

Mr J Selfe (DA) said that he was concerned about continuous use of incarceration for offenders serving short sentences and asked how many offenders were serving sentences of less than six months. The Committee had been told that there were no rehabilitation programmes available for offenders serving sentences of less than two years. Therefore he asked the DCS what was the point of such offenders serving these sentences. They contributed to overcrowding and yet received no rehabilitation benefit from their sentence.

Mr Lucky Mthethwa, Director: Corrections Administration, DCS, said that on 30 June 2009, there were 4 618 offenders serving terms of less than six months. 257 were female and 4 361 were male. There were 4 244 offenders serving six to twelve months sentences, of which 139 were female and 4 105 were male.

Mr Selfe stated that since the profile type of offence limited the power to release offenders on parole, and since the Annual Report stated that there were 12 296 cases where the minimum detention date had expired with no recommendation for parole from the
Case Management Committees (CMC) to Parole Boards, this was not a problem of the parole board, nor the offenders, but of the DCS. He asked what was planned in order to address this bottleneck.

Mr Damons said that the CMC system was not fully functional for a period, which caused a backlog of finalisation of applications, and that this problem persisted. The DCS was presently structuring funding for the vacancies.

Mr Selfe asked what would encourage courts to use correctional supervision as an alternative sentence, and why it was not already used more widely as an alternative diversion option.

Mr Damons said that it was difficult to trace people who had absconded from parole because of addresses given, and the DCS was addressing use of electronic monitoring that could be applied in rural areas where telephone lines were not available. Introduction of a satellite system was being investigated for use of electronic monitoring.

Ms M Nyanda (ANC) referred to the 24 offenders who exceeded their parole date due to lack of support. She asked who was supposed to support these offenders and what the time frame was for management of an Integrated Justice System Case for ATDs.

Mr Damons answered that when the family refused to take care of the offenders, this was referred to as lack of support, and there was no alternative but to take them back into the system. In terms of the time frame, the measurable objectives would be presented after Cabinet approval.

Ms M Mdaka (ANC) asked for clarity on what ‘lack of support’ meant.

Mr Damons said that before offenders could be released, monitoring officials had to confirm the offender’s address and create reports on family, food, clothing, accommodation, and conditions around the area. This information was on file, and was referred to as the support system.

Ms Philiso asked for a list of ‘lack of support’ specifications that would explain the levels of support apart from family support.

The Chairperson asked what the nature of the crime would be for a sentence of less than six months. There were over 10 000 people sitting sentences of less than 12 months, and these clearly could not be violent crimes nor sexual assaults.

Ms Philiso asked if implementation of DCS plans and frameworks to address backlogs relating to ATDs and sentenced offenders had resulted in any progress. Furthermore, she said that successes reported to the NOTT were not specific. She asked what would be the risk in sentencing offenders to correctional supervision. She also noted that 86 children were placed under correctional supervision in terms of Section 71. She asked why those children were under correctional supervision when there was also a warning system.
Mr Damons said that the success indicated over the past five years indicated sentenced offenders moving out. There was increase in capacity of 600 through building and upgrading of facilities. and the report showed that the process was stable and that the DCS was operating correctly in terms of parole and supervision of ATDs. The 86 children leaving were also out of the system, as well as the 991 children who were released on warnings or whose cases were withdrawn in terms of Section 72. The nature of crimes that children committed was very similar to adult crimes. When they had committed minor crimes, DCS went back to the courts every second week to reconsider if the child should stay in the facilities. Status of social class was considered and DSC met each month with the JCPS to look at moving children from correctional facilities to secure care facilities.
Mr Selfe asked if he understood correctly that in 12 296 cases where people had served their minimum sentence, they were not released simply because the DCS had a personnel shortage. He added that if that was indeed the case, the DCS was contributing to overcrowding rather than managing the problem. He asked for an explicit explanation of steps taken by the DCS to fill the vacancies, and for the time line expected for this resolution.

Mr Selfe pointed out that over a year ago, Mr Matseki had said that the DCS was investigating satellite tracking devices. He asked for progress on this, and concluded that if reluctance to use correctional supervision as an alternative sentence was due to people absconding, then tracking devices would solve that problem.

Mr Damons said that an inmate tracking contract was completed the previous year, but that there was corruption in the process of awarding the tender. Therefore the DCS had to start afresh with the process. This year DCS had been advised not to use telephone lines and satellite systems had not yet been introduced as a monitoring device.

Mr Selfe said that there was conflict over when the facilities would be completed. He added that in his 15 years serving on the Committee, it was his experience that the DCS had no sense of urgency to deal with issues over which it had control.

Mr Damons said that the DCS reported that the Kimberley project was to be completed by the end of September. However, the security contractor caused a delay and the date had then been postponed to October. This was the responsibility of the Department of Public Works (DPW) and the DCS was in the process of discussions with that Department to finalise the date of completion.

Mr S Abram (ANC) asked what the retention strategy was for personnel and what strategy was in place to acquire sufficient staff to fulfill the functions of the DCS. He also asked if there were any plans, apart from improving the CJS, to address the 28.82 % ATDs and to improve the flow through the system. He added that this would significantly reduce overcrowding and reduce the 142% of total inmate population.

Mr Damons said that Occupation Specific Dispensation was an initiative that the government had embarked on to retain personnel and it had been approved for implementation in DCS the previous month. The flow in and out of the system of 20 000 per month was constant, but control by government on crime was the problem. There was joint responsibility by all the Departments to address the issues and at monthly Development Committee meetings, reports were submitted to the Director General and Minister.

Ms Nyanda asked what the clusters discussed with regard to correction of the blockages in the CJS.

Mr Damons said that the DCS believed that there could be improvements in the process of cases taken to court. One ATD had, for example, gone to court 112 times. This had been brought to the attention of the Development Committee responsible for the JCS cluster department.

Ms Mdaka said that the DCS needed to address the ATDs who had been in the system for a long time before discussing overcrowding.

Mr Damons said that monthly reports were submitted to both the Development Committee and to the Minister, so that statistics and profiles on people serving these long periods could be addressed by the Minister.

Ms Philiso asked how the different departments addressed solutions to overcrowding, as it would include social, legal, Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), civil society and other services, apart from the CJS. She also said that the problem relating to addresses was unclear, as she believed that everyone had to have an address.

Mr Damons said that there was intergovernmental interaction that measured success on a monthly basis, and that the problem was receiving attention at the highest level of government. The Government Programme of Action had given DCS a 5% reduction in population as indicated this year, and was measuring the processes. The DCS reported on a monthly period to the Development Committee and the debate around reducing and management of overcrowding continued.

The Chairperson asked if the problem could be that the DCS did not have sufficient staff to release and monitor ATDs. If the DCS had made use of technology, their addresses would not be an issue. Manual tracking, in these times when other facilities were available, could not be cited as the cause for problems with tracking of an offender’s address. He did not accept the problem of addresses as causing overcrowding. He asked that this be conveyed by the officials to the National Commissioner. According to the presentation today, the tracking system was not yet implemented because of corruption. However, the Annual Report had stated that the tracking system was not installed in facilities due to poor procurement processes. The DCS needed to take responsibility for misleading the Committee. He also asked for an explanation of Remand Detention Facilities (RDFs), which the DCS reported were being established as a solution to overcrowding.

Mr Damons said that the DCS had identified 11 RDFs to be refurbished to meet minimum standards, so that there was a facility only for remand detention offenders. The RDFs would introduce video correction courts, biometric fingerprints and other facilities. The DCS would also embark on a feasibility study of RDFs around the world and eight transactional advisors would be appointed by the National Treasury to advise the DCS on an ideal RDF in terms of location, requirements and functions.

The Chairperson said that technology at St Albans had enabled sentences to be handed down without the offender leaving the facility. He asked what results the DCS expected from transaction managers, who would cost of R20 million, and whether this would be any different from the feasibility study of St Albans.

Mr Damons said that the video postponement project was founded in Durban but new advanced technology was then introduced. This had been successful in linking Port Elizabeth and New Brighton to St Albans. This video equipment would eventually be rolled out to 22 Correctional Centres and led by the Department of Justice and the DCS.

The Chairperson rephrased that he was interested to know what results the transaction manager hoped to uncover, given that the video equipment was already functioning in Durban and St Albans.

Mr Damons replied that the transaction manager would approve building design, construction and requirements specifically for RDF.

The Chairperson asked if the situation of 140% overcrowding would persist while the RDFs took five years to build.  He pointed out that if the DCS was to deal with the overcrowding, it would require16 more correctional facilities, with 3000 beds, at a cost of R1 billion per facility. His argument was that on the basis of the report it did not seem that the DCS was serious about strategies to address overcrowding of 49 000 people, and that more could be done, such as electronic monitoring and managing detainees who were serving light sentences for what were essentially petty crimes. A target inmate population of 140 000 population was not satisfactory. He asked the DCS to adapt its strategy on correcting the problem of overcrowding.

Mr Damons said that he would share the frustrations with the Cluster, and the issues of minor cases would be raised within the system at the DCS. He conceded that there was no excuse for not having electronic monitoring.

Ms Phaliso asked the DCS what the magistrates’ responses had been to ATD issues since they were part and parcel of the cluster meetings. He asked for identification of the areas where magistrates were not co-operating nor responding to the burning issues of overcrowding. First time offenders were joining gangs in prison because of the environment in which they were placed.

Mr Damons said that magistrates were not part of the JCPS, but that there were interactions either through the Department of Justice or the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which was responsible for taking cognisance of problem areas. The problems regarding first time offenders would be taken to the JCPS and would be conveyed to the magistrates so that first-time offenders could be given alternative sentences.

Ms Philiso asked for time frames and a progress report on facilities that could separate first time ATDs from habitual offenders.

Mr Damons said that he had been notified that the building of new facilities been put on hold because the Minister wanted to ensure value for money in terms of public-private partnerships and entertain alternative routes. Documents for the projects were completed and finalised and were ready for interventions.

Ms Nyanda said that DCS repeatedly addressed improvements of metro prisons. However, Mpumalanga was in serious need of improvement.

Mr Damons said the regions were structured with Mpumalanga, Northern Province and North West Province in one region. In that region the population and crime rate was low and it was not struggling with overcrowding, when compared to KwaZulu Natal, Western Cape, Gauteng and Eastern Cape. However, one of the facilities would be built in Klerksdorp, which was in the Mpumalanga region.

Mr Selfe said that he was hoping that the DCS would address the question of vacancies in CMC where possible. He said that he was concerned that the aspects over which the DCS itself had control, such as the electronic tracking system, had not progressed much after five years. The resources and management of DSC did not appear to be behind the processes that impacted decisively on reducing overcrowding in the centres. Building new generation prisons now seemed to be put forward as an option, but there were much more cost effective mechanisms that could impact on reducing overcrowding through innovative management.

Mr Damons said Mr Mthethwa would respond on the CMCs. He agreed that DCS had been a long time finalising the matters such as inmate tracking and others. He would bring these matters to the attention of the different structures.

Ms Mdaka proposed that the Portfolio Committee should meet with the Risk Management Committee and the Minister, and pressure the DCS to answer properly after 15 years.

Mr Damons said that the responsibility of the ROT and NOTT was to implement the strategy of the DCS, which was led by the Acting National Commissioner. The Risk Management Committee would monitor and report back to the Acting National Commissioner.

The Chairperson asked how many video facilities were currently operative.

Mr Damons said that 3 were operating and 22 would be effective towards June 2010.

The Chairperson said that the Annual Report, signed on 31 May 2009, needed to be addressed and defended by the DCS, and if this was not possible, then the Committee had a problem with the culture of work in the Department. The Annual Report had stated that the delay in installation of videos was due to identification of appropriation sites. He said that the Committee sensed no urgency being given to the matter, when the DCS had taken a year to approve 10 sites, had taken five years for electronic monitoring, and now said the building of new prisons and video facilities would be effective next year.

Mr Damons said that he would convey the seriousness of the Portfolio Committee to the top management of DCS and would also convey the message about the way in which the accuracy of the Annual Report would be questioned.

Mr Mthethwa said that overcrowding was a serious concern for the DCS and that it shared the same sentiments and worries as the Committee. DCS understood the requirements of the Act in regard to humane conditions of detention. The DCS would appreciate a meeting with the Committee where it could share information on exactly what the Department was doing. The RDFs would alleviate the burden on the DCS. There was a problem with shortage of staff, with approximately 40 000 staff at all staff levels. The main problem currently with releasing ATDs was monitoring of their addresses, coupled with the problem that most people brought into the system did not have identification.

The Chairperson said that there were 22 000 people who should have been released if the DCS had acted according to its mandate. He did not wish to debate address issues.

Mr Mthethwa said that the monitoring officials could not take the chance and release some offenders, and furthermore, some offenders wanted to return to the facilities as there was no one to take them in their homes. The DCS was short of specialist staff to deal with the sexual and aggressive offenders. The DCS had however established correctional programmes which were of both a therapeutic and non therapeutic nature, which were staffed by correctional intervention officials such as auxiliary nurses, social workers, and psychologists who would supplement the shortage of skills. Offenders could not be released without completing these correctional programmes.

There would be an approved CMC structure. Although it had not been implemented, some interim persons were put in place, but had not taken their temporary jobs seriously and applied for other opportunities when they arose. This matter had received attention.

The Chairperson thanked the DCS. He suggested that the Committee should call for a public hearing as soon as possible, and meet with all Departments and all relevant Committees to resolve the issues of overcrowding and ATDs.

The meeting was adjourned.



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