Draft White Paper on Remand Detention Management: departmental briefing

Correctional Services

05 February 2014
Chairperson: Mr V Smith (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee was briefed by the Department on Correctional Services (DCS) on the draft White Paper on Remand Detention Management in South Africa. The Department stated that it required consideration of the document by the Committee and further consultations, if deemed necessary, and escalation of the document to the Ministers of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster for approval. There was agreement that the idea of bringing the White Paper to the Portfolio Committee would not necessarily lead to legislation.. The Committee was also briefed on the Remand Detention and Offender Management System (RDOMS).

Conflict with Dimension Data over a settlement agreement proposal was explained, as the Committee was concerned about time frames and what would be happening in the 12 months before the agreement was signed off. Members asked what would happen in areas where there was no agreement, as the matter was being settled out of court. The Department agreed that it would adopt the advice from the Committee on the matter. This advice was a ‘take it or leave it’ approach, to prevent the matter being drawn out for another five years.  In the interim, the Department had made a few customisations that could accommodate Section 49G of the Correctional Services Act 111 of July 2013 -- for example, in terms of calculating what the length of detention was.

The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development reported that they had an Integrated Justice System (IJS) board that dealt with Information Technology (IT) and Information Communication Technology (ICT) solutions across the cluster.  A process had also been put in place, where the 21 longest outstanding cases countrywide involving remand detainees were being monitored.

The Committee stated that when the Department met with the Committee on 19 February to give the quarterly report, it should be able to tell the Committee that all the legalities in terms of Dimension Data were either completed, or how far they had gone.  

Members asked about what happened to mentally ill persons on remand, and how families and friends of remand detainees were dealt with, overcrowding and legal representation.
They expressed concern about the delays in the system, and heard that there were systems in place to deal with delays. The primary system was the Criminal Justice Review (CJR), as it showed where the delays were, and one could then easily address them. The Committee issued a caution that it would be problematic if on 19 February it was found that the Department was still negotiating RDOMS.

The Committee expressed grave concern about the situation, as not everyone was doing their duty.  Politicians were urged to look seriously at the root causes, so that shortcomings could be corrected.  There were projects that had been able to identify where 80% of remand detainees were held, and the backlog of cases stood at 25 762 in December 2013.


Meeting report

Ms Britta Rotmann, Chief Deputy Commissioner: Department of Correctional Services, said that she would like to start by explaining why the White Paper has been brought to the Committee. She asked if the Committee allowed this, because the discussion was on the Remand Detention and Offender Management System (RDOMS).   Ms Nthabiseng Mosupye, the Chief Deputy Commissioner: Government Information Technology Office, (GITO) could give a brief update on the status of that process. 

There was agreement that the idea of bringing the White Paper to the Committee would not necessarily lead to legislation at all.  What had happened was that a draft White Paper was presented to the Committee at the same time as the Correctional Matters Amendment Bill. The White Paper was then amended, and when Ms Rotmann started in her position she was asked to amend the White Paper, taking into consideration the Correctional Matters Amendment Bill and then, following that, the Act. The reason this draft White Paper was brought to the Committee was to illustrate a significant development of policy within the Department. The Department had up to now been guided almost exclusively by the White Paper on Corrections, which hardly dealt with Remand Detention. What the Department was trying to do with the White Paper was to create the kind of booklet, or information, that any Correctional Official and inmate could use. This booklet would provide very clear information on what it meant to have remand detention.  So it was not brought to the Committee for approval, but for the Committee to take note of the significant development in this area. Developments into legislation were not anticipated.

The Chairperson said that if there was something the Committee was opposed to and provided suggestions about -- and the Department was willing to incorporate this into its findings -- then the Committee would give it its blessing. There was general agreement about having a booklet available for both officials and inmates about remand detention.

Mr Pieter du Randt, Chief Director, Court Services: Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, said this would help in the lead up to a broader implementation plan that would deal with the cluster activities as well. This was part of the presentation, so it should be noted that this was not just a Department of Correctional Services process, but something the cluster was trying to embrace.  It was trying to spell out the roles of the other role players.  The idea was to bring it to the Committee to gain from the wisdom of Members as a result of visits that the Committee normally made, to augment and strengthen it if required. Once the Minister signed off on it, the protocols would then be in place that could deal with matters in a practical way.

Remand Detention and Offender Management System (RDOMS) briefing
Ms Mosupye said that a summons had been presented to the DCS from Dimension Data over a claim of around R19 million. The DCS had opposed it and defended the claim, saying that Dimension Data actually owed the Department money that had already been paid, because the system had not been delivered as was required. Since then, Dimension Data had sent the Department a settlement agreement proposal in December 2013. The proposal stated that they had a solution that they could put to the Department to resolve the issue and also cover the scope of work that was defined.  Unfortunately, the Department received this during the holiday period and had looked at it only in January.  Legal Services was still analysing it and would be able to give a response in terms of what they thought about it. The proposal stated that they would give the Department a system that would cover the full scope that RDOMS was supposed to have covered.  

Ms Mosupye said that all the Department had to do was to customise the solution. The challenge of the settlement was that they wanted a certain amount upfront, and also wanted to link it to the previous service agreement. This service agreement had some of the clauses the Department agreed with. The Department was currently in discussion regarding those clauses, and hopefully this would be finalised before the end of February.  All the outstanding matters, especially with regard to Remand Detention and the White Paper, could then be customised within the solution.  The implementation period that had been proposed was 12 months, starting from the date when the agreement would be signed and when agreement had been reached with the State Information Technology Agency (SITA).           

Mr V Ndlovu (IFP) asked what would happen if there were areas where there was no agreement, because this matter was being settled out of court and there was supposed to be an understanding between the parties.  What would happen if it impacted on the service delivery of the Department.

The Chairperson said that he was concerned about this being fine-tuned and signed off only in December 2014. The big problem was that everything was hand written. There was no way of knowing about someone who was awaiting trial or remand detention, because there was no system. It could not be continued on that basis for another 12 months.  RDOMS had preceded this Committee itself. The mistake that this Committee had made with the DCS was when, for example, the Department said they were investigating something, to give them freedom. What Mr Ndlovu was basically saying was that at some point one would have to have to say to Dimension Data or to the SITA: this is it -- take it or leave it.  The Department could not have a situation where it was negotiating differences for a whole year. The Committee wanted an indication of when the Department was going to say, take it or leave it. This could not continue for another five years.

Ms Mosupye replied that one of the clauses around which there was disagreement, for example, was where there was a stipulated amount that Dimension Data said that the Department should pay upfront.  Obviously as government, if a service was not received, one could not pay anything up front unless it was related to the licensing of the software. Dimension Data had not explained what that amount related to, so the Department had to go back and negotiate.

In terms of the time as well, Dimension Data needed to give the Department a full project plan related to the full period of time. This would show what was going to happen within those 12 months. Customisation also needed to be negotiated. The Department was going to be asking Dimension Data for information, where clarity was required, and if they did not agree the deal was off.  Dimension Data was willing to explain those clauses. There would be a meeting with them next Tuesday to agree on clauses.

Related to RDOMS and remand management, Ms Mosupye said that in the interim the Department had made a few customisations that could accommodate Section 49G of the Correctional Services Act 111 of July 2013 -- for example, in terms of calculating what the length of detention was. Those kinds of changes were made on the system. The Department was also in the process of making sure the integration point with the Integrated Justice System (IJS) was happening.  There was a need to ensure the information was cleaned up to prepare for  integration with the whole IJS, so that there was no delay caused by what was happening with RDOMS.  

Mr Du Randt said that there was an IJS board that dealt with Information Technology (IT) and Information Communication Technology (ICT) solutions across the cluster. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development would be keeping a very close eye on developments to see which quick solutions could be tried to accelerate matters, so that things could be done as quickly as possible.

At this point in time, they received electronic information from the DCS about long outstanding cases and people who needed to be prioritised on a monthly basis. This information was shared with all the role players, such as legal aid, the prosecuting authority, and the court managers, and this was starting to pay off. A process had also been put in place where the 21 cases outstanding the longest countrywide, in terms of remand detainees, was being monitored.  

The Chairperson said that if the Department was having a meeting next Tuesday, then surely when it met with the Committee the following day to give the quarterly report, it would be able to tell the Committee that all the legalities in terms of Dimension Data were either completed or at which stage they were at.  The legislation allowed for a maximum of two years. He asked if the DCS was able to cover this period. The Committee needed an indication, and it wanted to know if the trend was going to be monitored. More importantly, part of the concern was for remand detainees if, for example, there was an extradition. What would the guarantee be that they did not spend a lot of time in detention?

Ms Rotmann said that with regard to the 49G issue, the Act did specify that for someone awaiting trial longer that two years, the DCS was obliged to refer that person to court for the court’s consideration on whether they should continue in detention or whether there were other options, such as placing the person on warning or on bail, or finalising the process itself more quickly. This was being monitored.  It had been implemented only since July and the Department had been gathering figures from the regions. Some discrepancies had been noticed and were being dealt with. The process was being monitored on a monthly basis. The figures had been reported to the Criminal Justice Review (CJR) recently. The CJR allowed the Department to see related issues. The JCS had also started to engage on issues on long awaiting trials and had engaged with Judge Francis Legodi in this regard. The Committee was assured that regular monitoring took place.

Briefing on draft White Paper
Ms Rotmann said that the Committee had had the White Paper for some time now. The Department wanted the Committee to consider and comment on the document.  Any comments received would be taken on board for improvement of the White Paper and the policy of the Department. The Document would then be escalated to Ministers of the cluster for approval.

The Cabinet decision of 2006 assigned the DCS, through the Justice Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster, to lead the project of re-engineering the management of awaiting trial detainees in South Africa. This draft White Paper on Remand Detention was part of this process. The draft White Paper dealt with governance; rights and privileges of remand detainees; services and programmes; orderly, safe and secure remand detention; the use of integrated systems; overcrowding; oversight and control; the formal consultation process; the implementation plan and the costing of the White Paper.  The rights and privileges of remand detainees were: presumption of innocence, detention under conditions of human dignity, separation according to categories, medical treatment and legal information.

The current challenges around the use of integrated systems were: the use of multiple identities; the slow process of verification of identities; a lack of access to systems of other departments; an inadequate system of identification of the clients of the Criminal Justice System (CJS); limited information provided to detention institutions; regular and repeated administrative processes for admission and releases of Remand Detainees (RDs); lack of communication of security risks or threats; exchanging of identities of RDs and the failure of RDs to present themselves for court appearances. The strategies for addressing the challenges included the establishment of an integrated and seamless national CJS IT database system and the use of a unique identification system.

Ms Rotmann said that a substantial number of proposals in the White Paper were not new, and each CJS department had been carrying out their responsibilities under their own budgetary allocations received from the National Treasury annually. (see document)

The Chairperson asked what happened with mentally ill persons.

Ms Rotmann replied that with the mentally ill, the situation could not be much changed. However, the White Paper tried to distinguish between state patients and involuntary mental health care users. Those not found guilty in terms of the court, were also not told that they needed to access mental health treatment. They therefore did not need to come to the DCS -- they needed to go straight to a mental health facility. The Department was working with the CJR to develop policies aimed at reducing the number of mentally ill in its facilities. The DCS could not act alone. With regard to remand detention, it was happy to be able to work well as part of the cluster.

Mr Ndlovu asked for Chapter 6 to be elaborated upon, as it dealt with families and friends, and these were “sticky issues.”

Ms Rotmann replied that with the issue of family and friends, the responsibility lay with individuals. The DCS acknowledged that relating to family and friends on a regular basis was something that improved the management of an inmate, regardless of whether it was a remand detainee or a sentenced offender. The DCS felt that it was not properly addressing that link, as it was not focusing on inmates’ relationships with the outside world. The Department, however, would like to take more responsibility for maintaining that link with the outside world. It encouraged reaching out to family and friends, and social workers were brought in if necessary. Questions about family and friends were asked when an inmate was brought in, but did not come as information from SAPS. The Department was hoping that when it had an integrated system, it would have better access to information about family and friends.   This was with SAPS, who did not automatically communicate it to the DCS.  If there was a transversal, then information would be available to all departments who needed it. Information about families and friends was not the responsibility of SAPS.

Mr Ndlovu asked who was responsible for overcrowding.

Mr L Max (DA) asked for clarity about legal representation

Ms Rotmann replied that judges and magistrates were reluctant to force people to appear if they did not have legal representation.

Mr Max said that he was pleased with the implementation plan, and hoped that the Department was committed to it.  Delays were not the responsibility of the Department in all instances.

Ms Rotmann said there were systems in place to deal with delays. The primary one was the CJR, as it showed where the delays were and one could then address them. The issue with the top 21 programme was that it was a good way to analyse delays, because it looked at the longest delays. Fundamentally, the National Efficiency Enhancement Committee (NEEC), which was established by the Chief Justice, was the key because one could look at delays in courts specifically. So those systems were in place.

Mr Max said that there were problems with inmates who did not give the right information, as some did not want family to know they had been arrested.

The Chairperson said that there would be serious problems on the 19th February if it was found that the Department was still negotiating RDOMS. Biometric fingerprints would resolve this problem. The DCS should have a good system in place. The Committee was not going to wait six years for the RDOMS system. Work could not be done without an integrated system.  

The Chairperson said that one should distinguish between the long awaiting trial period caused by inefficiencies in the system, and those caused by opportunistic maneouvres of the accused.

Mr Du Randt said it was fortunate that the new Chief Justice was starting to push for greater efficiency in the courts. He was also busy developing standards and norms for courts. With regard to responsibility, from a trial perspective, the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development looked at who took control of cases and made sure there were no unnecessary delays. It was therefore the magistrate’s responsibility. It was also the role of each Department involved. From Legal Aid’s side, extensive monitoring was taking place. Operating in silos had come to an end and people were taking responsibility. The whole value chain was taking responsibility.

Mr Cobus Esterhuizen, Legal Aid South Africa, said that there were two projects that identified where 80% of remand detainees were held. Those areas were covered specifically.  There was co-operation among all stakeholders. The ultimate goal was not just to update website pages, but to show what attempts had been made.

Mr Shawn Flowers, Legal Aid South Africa, said that most of their practitioners were sensitised to the position of remand detainees.

Mr S Abram (ANC) said it was worrisome that not everyone was doing their duty. There was something drastically wrong in our society. Politicians had to look seriously at how things were being done and how shortcomings could be corrected. If everyone did their duty, there would be no problems. The root causes of problems had to be addressed, otherwise the same level of frustration would remain.

Mr Ndlovu asked for clarity about lawyers having double appointments. There should be penalties, so that people would feel duty-bound to fulfill their responsibilities.

Mr M Cele (ANC) said that Chapter 3 of the report reflected the good intentions of the Department. He hoped there was liaison with the Department of Health, because there were not enough doctors and nurses.

Mr Du Randt said that the situation was not all doom and gloom.  Backlogged cases were being prioritised. There were nearly 42 000 backlog cases in 2007/ 2008. This had been worked down to 31 064 by March 2013. At the end of December 2013, there were 25 762.   An impact was beginning to be made as a result of everyone working together for the whole country,  in the districts and the high court. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development was focusing on implementation and monitoring.

The Department would liaise with Judge Legodi regarding the meeting on 19 February.  It would be appreciated if the secretary of the Portfolio Committee could also liaise with Judge Legodi’s office.

Ms Rotmann replied that the non-appearance of inmates at court was not acceptable. The DCS would try to improve on this, as it was their responsibility. There was an awareness of the frustrations regarding consultations with Legal Aid. The DCS had a draft protocol with Legal Aid to improve the situation. The issue of late arrivals in court and multiple accused would be addressed at the meeting on 19 February.

Ms Rotmann said that there had been good feedback from NGOs on the draft White Paper, and implementation had already started. This would be the final document in this financial year. She understood Mr Abram’s frustrations about working in silos, but felt hopeful for the future.  Evidence of this was that communications that took place within the clusters were very good. She felt that there was movement in the right direction. There were successes shown in the cluster on remand detention. The figures had gone down from 54 000 in 2007/2008, to 46 000 on 4 February 2014. This steady decrease has been the direct result of the cluster working together.

She expressed gratitude to the Committee for their comments and contributions.  

Meeting was adjourned.

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