Women with children in correctional centres: Gauteng Department of Correctional Services briefing

NCOP Women, Children and People with Disabilities

19 February 2014
Chairperson: Ms P Mabe (ANC, Gauteng)
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Meeting Summary

The Gauteng Department of Correctional Services presented feedback to the Committee to deal with concerns raised after the Committee’s visit to Pollsmoor Correctional Centre to assess the position of women imprisoned with their babies. Giving some general background, it was noted that the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) held a number of vulnerable groups in their facilities, including women, children, youth, elderly persons and people with disabilities, including mental illness. The presentation, however, focused on the position of mothers with their babies, who may have been born in the correctional centre, or who needed to be with their mothers up to the age of two years, in terms of the Correctional Services Amendment Act, although it was of concern to the DCS that the facilities were not really meant to cater for babies. Many pieces of legislation enjoined the DCS to provide humane facilities and set out principles relating to the care and protection of children, which were taken into account, including the Imbeleko project. Sixteen Female Correctional Centres had now been designed with the Mother and Baby units to accommodate children. By the end of last year, there were 87 babies with their mothers in DCS facilities. For these mothers and children, the DCS worked with other stakeholders, including other government departments and NGOs, to provide health care services for the prevention of communicable and non-communicable conditions, pregnancy and post-partum care, including referral to specialists, and general promotion of health for women and their babies, including prevention of mother-to-child-HIV transmission, special diets for nursing mothers and children, vaccinations and health education. Social work services and psychological services were also available upon request or referrals after proper assessments. These stakeholders and NGOs also assisted with the alternative placement of babies after leaving the DCS facilities at the age of two years, and tried to ensure contact between the mothers and their children.

The main challenges faced by the women living with their babies in prison were the difficulties they encountered in registering births of the babies, due to lack of required legal document, especially those mothers who were not South African citizens, and without that, they were unable to access social grants. The legal procedures to place babies in alternative care also took very long, and often there was lack of cooperation from relatives or absentee fathers. Mothers also experienced separation anxiety as they were not allowed to stay with their children when they had reached two years of age. The DCS facilities, although they tried to offer education and support to mothers and children, did not actually comply with the norms and standards that were set by the Department of Social Development (DSD) for these centres to be registered as Early Childhood Development Centres.

The presentation finally gave some statistics on other vulnerable offenders, noting that the DCS facilities house 140 offenders with disabilities, 1 000 older than 60 years, and 394 children under 18, whose offences were so serious that they could not be placed elsewhere. There were also 48 000 offenders between the ages of 18 to 25 years, many of whom were serving long sentences. In answer to questions from Members, the DCS described its educational programmes for the different categories of offenders, noting that it worked with the Departments of Basic and of Higher Education, offered matric examinations and graduate studies, trained offenders in cookery and other skills. Members asked about the gender of the offenders between 18 and 25.

Meeting report

Women with their children in correctional centres:Gauteng Department of Correctional Services briefing
The Chairperson noted that this meeting was convened to hear the responses to the questions raised in the last Committee meeting held last year.

Mr Joey Coetzee, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Correctional Services outlined the challenges faced by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS or the Department) in relation to mothers imprisoned with their babies in correctional centres, and the steps taken by the Department to address them. The Deputy Commissioner began by explaining that the DCS accommodated various categories of vulnerable groups (women, children, youth, elderly persons and people with disabilities, which included those with mental illness) who happened to have come into conflict with the law. The DCS had a system that was used to assess individuals upon their admission to the DCS facilities, and this was particularly important for those with mental illness as they needed to be admitted into a health care facility.

The DCS was cognisant of the plight of babies incarcerated with their mothers, and was aware that the facilities of DCS were not meant to house children. Unfortunately, due to the circumstances prevailing in South Africa, incarcerated mothers often found themselves in situations where they had to be with their babies in prison. This may be due to the fact that the babies were with their mothers when the mothers were sentenced to incarceration, or the babies were born while the mothers were incarcerated. As at 31 December 2013 there were 87 babies with their mothers in DCS Female Correctional facilities. Currently there were 22 Female Correctional Centres in DCS, and 16 of these centres have the mother and baby units, therefore could accommodate children.

The Department of Correctional Services respected the requirements outlined in various legislation that aimed to protect human rights. The DCS was mindful of section 28(1) of the Bill of Rights, which asserted that every child had the right to be treated in a manner, and kept in conditions appropriate to the child’s age. The Correctional Services Amendment Act No 25 of 2008 also allowed female offenders (mothers) to stay with their babies in a correctional facility until the babies reached the age of two years. Women who had babies under that age were accommodated separately in the mother and baby units, which had been established in all six DCS regions. Where such facilities were not available closest to the mother’s home, the mother was transferred, with her baby, to the nearest Female Correctional Centre with a mother and baby unit.

Section 35(e) of the Constitution made provision for conditions of detention that were consistent with human dignity, including the right to exercise and the provision, at state expense, of adequate accommodation, nutrition, reading material and medical treatment. To ensure that proper medical treatment was received, pregnant women were referred to external public health facilities for antenatal care, intra-partum care, and post natal care, including specialist services where indicated. Social work services were provided to enhance the adjustment, social functioning and reintegration of all offenders into the community. Psychological services were rendered to the women as requested or as referred by members of the multidisciplinary team. Primary health care services were also made available for the prevention of diseases, promotion of health, management of acute and chronic communicable diseases such as HIV and STIs, and non-communicable conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and mental conditions, affecting women and their babies, in line with the Department of Health’s legislation, policies, guidelines and protocols. Other health care services provided for were parenting skills, expanded programme of immunisation, eradication of mother to child transmission of HIV nutritional programme for the mother and baby which included breastfeeding and weaning. There was a specific meal plan for pregnant and breastfeeding women and their infants.

A number of pieces of legislation giving effect to the rights of female offenders and their children under two were taken into account. These were the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, White Paper on Corrections in South Africa, the Children’s Act, South African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, Mothers and Babies Policy and Procedures. Section 12 of the Correctional Services Act No 111 of 1998 prescribed that all offenders, including their children, must be assisted to maintain contact with their families, friends and communities. To ensure that this was a success the DCS had established a project called Imbeleko, whose main purpose was to seek suitable alternative care for placement of babies with families, foster care and adoptive parents. Imbeleko also gave effect to the management and treatment of babies who were incarcerated with their mothers. It ensured that the Department’s commitment to pursue a secure and humane environment and provision of appropriate services and programmes to babies with their mothers was realised.

There were a number of challenges faced by the women living with their children in prison. Some of the South African and foreign incarcerated mothers with babies found it difficult to register the births of their babies, due to the lack of required necessary legal documents, thus making it impossible to have these children registered for social grants. The legal procedure to place babies in alternative care, for example foster care, took a long time, as the DCS was also dependent on other departments and stakeholders. There was lack of cooperation from relatives, and absence of the fathers in some cases made it difficult for placement, and affected both the mothers and babies emotionally. Mothers experienced separation anxiety since they were only allowed to stay with their babies until the latter reached two years.

The Department also noted that the registration of Mother and Baby units, as Early Childhood Development Centres, with the Department of Social Development (DSD) was a challenge because DCS facilities did not comply with the DSD’s strict norms and standards. Most of these structures were not designed to cater for the needs of babies. The DCS Social Work Services Unit was in the process of acquiring conditional registration of mother and child units as partial care facilities, in line with the Children’s Act. Meetings were being held with relevant stakeholders and other Departments to address the challenge regarding delays in placements. There were existing programmes for children before and after leaving the Correctional Facility – including healthcare services, which provided for the integrated management of childhood illnesses, formal education which was responsible for the Early Childhood Development Programmes focusing on stimulation of babies between the ages of 0-2 years. The DCS followed the same curriculum offered by the Department of Basic Education and Training. The DCS’s  social workers involved stakeholders like non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the DSD for legal processes, in preparation for alternative placement of babies. The social workers also arranged family consultation visits to enhance the bond between the mother and child after alternative placement of the baby.

The Deputy Commissioner noted, in conclusion, that there were currently 140 national offenders with disabilities in the DCS facilities. There were 1 000 offenders who were beyond the age of 60 years; and it was a great concern that as at 2 January 2014 there were still 394 children under the age of 18 years in the DCS facilities, who had to be incarcerated due to the seriousness of their offences. The most worrying factor to the Minister and Department of Correctional Services was that there were currently 48 000 offenders between the ages of 18 to 25 years in the DCS facilities. However all of these offenders had been enrolled in the different programmes provided by the DCS and other stakeholders.

The Chairperson reminded the Members that the presentation and questions asked at the last meeting were a follow up on the Committee’s last visit to Pollsmoor Prison.

Ms A Qikani (ANC, Eastern Cape) was concerned that she only heard the Deputy Commissioner refer to the provision for social development and welfare to the offenders but did not hear any mention of education and made the point that the offenders were also entitled to this.

Mr Coetzee responded that the DCS had a very solid relationship with the Department of Higher Education and Training as well as the Department of Basic Education. DCS followed the same curriculum offered by the Department of Basic Education, except that DCS concentrated on Adult Education. If the youth, referred to earlier, did not have a qualification equal to Grade 9, they followed the adult education stream. DCS had a memorandum of understanding setting out cooperation with the Department of Basic Education, since both Departments had a shortage of educators. Last year there were 130 youth who wrote their matric examinations within the DCS facilities, and more than 1 000 offenders were studying towards a degree or post matric certificate.

Mr D Worth (DA, Free State) thanked the DCS and mentioned that he heard on the radio that Pollsmoor Prison had one of the best restaurants in the world. He asked about the Department’s experiences and relationships with the DCS social workers, psychologists and the Department of Home Affairs and how they cooperated on the welfare of babies incarcerated with their mother.

Mr Coetzee appreciated Mr Worth’s comment on Pollsmoor Prison having one of the best restaurants in the world. He highlighted that it had been an experience for the offenders that had been put through the Chef’s Course, by means of the National Skills Fund funding provided through the Department of Higher Education. The DCS exposed offenders to certain training programmes and what they had learnt on was then utilised in the restaurant.

Ms D Makhuza, Director: Social Work, DCS, responded to Mr Worth’s question about the experience with stakeholders. DCS would ensure that the babies born to South African citizens were registered with the Department of Home Affairs and they had a direct link to the Department of Social Development for further assistance. There were, however, challenges with babies born to non South African citizens, as the lack of legal documents often made the registration impossible, and this was also linked to the DCS having difficulty contacting the next of kin of the offenders. However, the good relationships that DCS had with the NGOs, for instance, did assist. Although the presenters did not have the exact figures on psychologists within the DCS facilities, there were a number of social workers within the facilities, and at the end of December 2013 there were 512 social workers across the country.

Mr Coetzee added that the Department needed more psychologists and that there was a scarcity, in South Africa in general, and in the DCS facilities in particular, of psychologists.

Mr G Mokgoro (ANC, Northern Cape) asked if the figure of 48 000 young offenders was an indication that these age groups were becoming more involved in crime. He also asked if the numbers of male offenders was higher than that of female offenders.

Mr Coetzee replied that by January 2014 there were about 1 029  female offenders between the ages of 18 to 25, compared to 33 899 male offenders in the same age group. He acknowledged that the people involved in crimes were getting younger.

Ms M Plaatjies, who was described as dealing directly with programmes offered to address offender behaviour in the DCS, explained that the Department offered programmes that were meant to add to the programmes presented by social workers, using correctional officials who hade been properly trained to present their own correctional programs. These programmes focused mainly on substance abuse and sexual offences. Insofar as children were concerned, there were also specific programmes designed to cater for their needs, with four running at the moment. There were 416 children who attended the programmes in all DCS facilities in the last year, between April and December. Although this was a higher figure than the total child offender population this was explained by the fact that the DCS also used external service providers such as NGOs, and would keep statistics also on programmes presented to children by quality assured external service providers. She agreed that there was a worrying number of youth offenders. The majority were males. Many of them had committed very serious crimes and were sentenced to a long period. DCS would ensure, once the offenders entered the correctional facility, that they were assessed, and that the appropriate programmes were allocated accordingly. The offenders were again assessed after six to twelve months, to determine how useful the programmes had been.

The Chairperson thanked the Department for the presentation and emphasised the need for the Committee to visit other correctional centres, including others in Johannesburg. She noted that what was presented on paper may not be what was always happening on the ground.

The meeting was adjourned.


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