Briefing on children in Prisons

Social Development

11 September 2002
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report

11 September 2002

Ebrahim Saloojee

Officials from the Department of Social Development (DSD) and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) presented an overview of the status of children in prisons in South Africa, with particular attention to children awaiting trial (CAT). Mr Ashley Theron addressed DSD's responsibilities toward children in the justice system, while Ms J.A. Schreiner and Ms J.E. Sishuba provided a more comprehensive assessment of DCS operations, focusing on youth. Committee members engaged the officials in a wide-ranging discussion of the challenges facing the South African correctional system and the measures taken by government departments to address them.

The following documents are available:
DSD briefing on children awaiting trial
DCS Schreiner presentation
DCS briefing on status of children in prison

Mr Ashley Theron (DSD) presented an overview of the status of children awaiting trial. For details of this presentation, please see the attached notes.

Ms J.A. Schreiner (DCS) presented a comprehensive overview of the corrections system in South Africa. For details of this briefing, please see the attached notes.

Ms J.E. Sishuba (DCS) presented an overview of the status of children in prison. For details of this briefing, please see the attached notes.

Ms Gandhi (ANC) referred to a recent incident at Westville prison. She asked how DCS could guarantee that adult prisoners were not using child prisoners sexually.

Ms Schreiner (DCS) asked for clarification as to the incident mentioned by Ms Gandhi with regards to Westville.

Ms Gandhi explained that the Jali Commission had heard a child was taken from the youth centre and used by inmates for sexual purposes. This practice is reputed to be quite common. What measures have been taken to prevent it?

Ms Gandhi noted that, when vacancies become open in Durban prisons, those with criminology backgrounds seem unable to have themselves shortlisted. Rather, the relatives of officials tend to be hired.

Ms Schreiner stated that DCS was currently auditing its recruitment process and confirming the correlation between qualifications required and those possessed by shortlisted candidates. She stated that she was aware of the allegations, and that DCS is seriously committed to stopping the practice

Ms Gandhi asked as to the replication of the Westville model, and asked whether children's prisons should be separate from adult facilities.

Ms Schreiner acknowledged that having no children in prison is ideal. Until other facilities are available, children will be in prisons, and DCS must make sure appropriate services and protections are provided.

Ms Ramotsamai (ANC) thanked DCS and DSD for their briefings. She expressed her concerns about issues in the media with regards to the separation of youth in prison by crimes committed. Are murderers and rapists held alongside petty thieves? She also noted that, while DCS policy requires the separation of adults from children, children continue to be victimized sexually by adult prisoners.

A DCS official stated that, in terms of separation by crimes, all prisoners are classed according to their offence ("safe custody classifications"). There is no specific risk classification for children. Children are still being abused due to non-compliance with DCS policy. She noted that in the Youth Development Centres, which accommodate individuals up to the age of 21, younger children are separated from older youth.

Ms Ramotsamai also requested more information from DSD regarding secure care facilities, and noted that neither department seems to have the resources to meet existing needs.

Ms Kalyan (DP) inquired as to the conditions for and status of the 2000-some unsentenced children in the corrections system.

She asked whether the notorious situation at Grootvlei had, in fact, been "sorted out."

Ms Schreiner explained that DCS staff has taken steps to prevent trafficking. The problem is non-compliance with DCS policy, and action has been taken to report, investigate, and discipline those who are not complying. She also noted that conditions of overcrowding and management problems make it difficult to deal with this issue.

Ms Kalyan also expressed concerns about the status of disabled children in prison. How many are there in the system, were they considered disabled prior to incarceration, and what sorts of services exist for them?

A DCS official responded that the figures provided for disabled prisoners are general. Disabled children do constitute one aspect of the prison population, but not in significant numbers. A youth policy, which has been approved up to the National Management Board level, takes into account the needs of disabled children; there is also a draft policy on disabled prisoners under consideration that will cover children and youth.

Ms Kalyan asked who has responsibility for children awaiting trial if not DCS.

Ms Schreiner responded that the responsible departments are Justice and Safety and Security (SAPS), and that DSD also comes in with respect to secure care facilities.

Ms Sishuba (DCS) stated that her department's objective is to provide separate facilities for children, recognizing that this is the best way to protect them.

Mr Saloojee (ANC) reminded the committee that, with respect to secure care facilities, a decision had been taken six years ago to provide this service, and it has not happened. What is being done to address this problem?

Ms Sishuba replied that this was a question for Mr Theron (DSD). What is happening at present is not the ideal, but concrete steps must be taken to move toward it.

Mr Theron spoke to the issue of DSD responsibility for secure care facilities. While some of the documents handed out at the meeting indicated that there were only ten such facilities, an additional nine are being planned—four for this year alone. Furthermore, a total of 29 secure care facilities (some of them private) are being utilized, and other programmes also provide for CAT.

Mr Saloojee clarified that the private secure care facilities are not fully fledged.

Mr Theron explained that DSD is moving toward bringing all of these facilities into full compliance with departmental criteria. He reiterated that these facilities are not the only option: diversion programmes, house arrest, and supervision in communities are alternatives. Children should not be in prisons and residential facilities.

Mr Theron stated that the delivery of certain services is necessary to protect children in prison. Such services include the 24-hour presence of social workers in prisons, and the use of NGOs to monitor conditions for children.

The protocol on the management of CAT in the Child Justice Bill provides for magistrates to discern who should go to secure care and who should go to a prison. A common protocol for implementation is still needed.

Mr Mbadi (UDM) expressed his discontent with the fact that rural areas were largely excluded from the discussion. In the countryside, NGOs are not available to supplement prison services, secure care facilities do not exist. In towns such as East London and Umtata, children are forced into small prisons. What measures can be taken to address the conditions in rural areas?

Ms Chalmers (ANC) acknowledged that many children in the corrections system come from fractured backgrounds, broken families, etc. They may require psychological counseling. She noted that at Pollsmoor prison, the proportion of prisoners to psychologists is very discouraging. What is the ratio in the wider corrections system? Can more be hired?

Ms Sishuba explained that there are roughly 4000 clinical psychologists in South Africa, and that of those, around 2000 are employable by DCS. DCS presently employs 44 psychologists for the entire prison population. Private practice is more lucrative. Remuneration is also a major obstacle. Psychologists cannot be attracted and retained in rural areas. Large numbers of qualified professionals are also leaving the system for the United Kingdom and Australia. Arrangements have been made for bringing in psychologists on an ad hoc basis, and the DCS is also turning its attention to multi-skilling employees so that non-specialized staff can perform some tasks. She noted that Pollsmoor does not meet international standards for psychological services.

Ms Chalmers inquired as to whether the schooling provided for children in prison is uniform, and whether children can transfer back into the regular public school system.

Ms Sishuba responded that all educational services provided on-site in prisons mirror the national curriculum, and are delivered by qualified teachers.

Ms Kasienyane (ANC) applauded the use of alternatives such as house arrest. She noted that, in North-West Province, reports from prisoners indicate that nothing like the secure care facilities described by DCS officials exists. Children are sometimes placed with adults, and are beaten; such a situation led one youth to attempt suicide.

Mr Theron stated that, at present, there are three secure care facilities in rural areas, and more are planned—including one near Umtata. Officials are aware of the needs of rural areas.

Mr Alfred Tsetsane (DCS) stated that the Renovation and Maintenance Programme (RAMP) had upgraded numerous facilities in rural areas such as the former Transkei. Overall, overcrowding leads to many problems. The Minister has unveiled a programme to develop facilities that foster humane care. This includes separate facilities for children.

Mr Tsetsane also explained that the department had recently experienced significant leadership changes, and that some management instability had resulted. He expressed his confidence that DCS is moving forward, rooting out fraud and corruption, and that marked results have been recorded.

Ms Schreiner (DCS) requested that any information relayed to MPs regarding abuses or problems within prisons be passed on to DCS for appropriate action.

Mr Saloojee observed that there is clearly an intention of introducing general reform. He suggested that, in January or February, DSD and DCS return for a more substantive discussion. In light of the Jali Commission and the declarations of the Correctional Services Minister, there is need for another encounter. He also encouraged MPs to visit prisons.

Ms Mars (IFP) congratulated DCS on its progressive attitude. She asked what services were in place to assist children after they exit the corrections system.

Mr Solo (ANC) asked what efforts had been made to integrate the efforts of SAPS, DSD, DCS, etc. He also rejected the claims by DCS officials that human resources problems could be blamed for flaws in the department. Why does the DCS not go into universities to proactively recruit?

Ms Schreiner acknowledged that the current degree of integration is not ideal, but that fora for practical efforts exist and are utilized. Strong commitment from the agencies involved will lead to more improvements.

With regards to the promotion of corrections professions, Ms Schreiner stated that DCS is interacting with tertiary institutions, but noted that the corrections professions have not been historically endorsed as "something to be proud of" in South Africa.

Ms Gandhi asked why South African cannot do for child prisoners what is being done for long-term prisoners in private facilities?

Ms Schreiner noted that a catch-22 exists for DCS: facilities must be decent and provide adequate services without entrenching children in the prison system.

Ms Gandhi asked whether prisoners could be provided with training for useful occupations, such as gardening.

Ms Schreiner acknowledged that keeping prison inmates occupied is of fundamental importance. However, she stated that overcrowding and insufficient staffing sometimes impedes efforts to provide opportunities for prisoners to recreate and gain new skills. Nonetheless, South African prisons manufacture furniture and steel, among other products.

Mr Saloojee described the Committee's visit to Canada, and how skills-building programmes there have actually become a source of revenue for the corrections system.

Mr Theron noted that, from the perspective of DSD, family reintegration and support programmes are crucial, and need to be linked to job finding and job creation. After care programmes exist to reintegrate children in schools and communities.

Youth development initiatives are also important, and DSD has been conscious of striking a balance between services to urban and rural areas. DSD has funded the so-called "crime buster" programmes in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng, Eastern Cape, and Western Cape that include self-defence training, youth coaching, violence prevention, and girl child empowerment. Job creation is also a priority, and DSD has gone so far as to finance factories where re-skilled young people can be employed gainfully.

Mr Tsetsane reiterated the importance of human resource matters. He noted that the number of people served by DCS has ballooned, and that the department cannot match its human resources to these expanding needs. South Africa cannot compete with other countries for qualified professionals. There is also a generally negative attitude toward employment in corrections. He stated that DCS has gone to career shows in Pretoria and Bloemfontein and had a booth at the WSSD in an effort to attract new recruits. There are also efforts underway to further professionalize corrections workers, advance career development opportunities, and regulate the profession in a way that would bar violators of ethical conduct standards from future employment in the sector.

This document was generated on: 2002-09-11


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