Pollsmoor court order: Department of Correctional Services progress report; Committee Report on Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill

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Justice and Correctional Services

09 May 2017
Chairperson: Dr M Motshekga (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The meeting began with consideration of the report on the proposed amendments to the Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill [B2-2017]. Corrections to the bill were highlighted by a state law adviser. All six ANC Members of the Committee in attendance voted in favour of the adoption of the report, while the DA Member present expressed her reservation, which was noted by the Chairperson.

The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) presented a report on the measures taken so far to implement the order of the court which had been granted in the case of Sonke Gender Justice vs the Government of South Africa in the Cape Town high court on 5 December 2016. The court had ordered that the government show cause by 21 December 2016 why the court should not order it forthwith to reduce the number of the remand detainee population at Pollsmoor to not more than 120%. Affidavits in this regard had had to be served and filed by 14 December 2016, to develop a comprehensive plan, including timeframes for its implementation, to address the deficiencies in the provisioning of exercise, nutrition, accommodation, ablution facilities and health care services, and the deficiencies identified in prison visit reports by Judge Edwin Cameron, by 31 January 2017.

Since the inception of the action plan, the total number of detainees at Pollsmoor had decreased significantly from 4 066 on 6 December 2016, representing 251% of capacity, to 2 608 by 28 April 2017, representing 161%.

The government had also been ordered to file a plan and report to the court, setting out what it had done to bring an end to the unlawful conditions described, to respond to each of the recommendations in the Cameron report, what further steps it would take to bring an end to the unlawful conditions and when it would take place. It was required to submit the area management’s findings and reports from the weekly inspections of cell accommodation, to ensure that every cell conformed to the minimum requirements for the incarceration of prisoners, for the period December 2012 to date. The Department highlighted the measures it had taken to address the concerns of the court with regard to the health and safety of the detainees at the detention centre.

The DCS concluded that the maintenance budget within the Department was not adequate. The high level of crime in the Western Cape, with emphasis on the metro, was very worrying. There was also a need for a new 3 000 bed facility. The high staff turnover in the management area led to a loss of experienced employees. Lastly, the old infrastructure was not consistent with the provisions of the new Correctional Services Act.

In discussion, an ANC Member attributed the current issues facing the DCS as a fall-out from the colonial era. The issue of the visit of Judge Cameron to Pollsmoor was highlighted, but the Chairperson stated categorically that the integrity of the judge was not being questioned, and neither was the validity of the court order. The need for the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS) to work closely with the Department was also highlighted.

Meeting report

Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill [ B2-2017]: Committee Report

Mr Henk du Preez, State Law Adviser, said that the Committee in its previous meeting had approved the proposed amendments to the Bill. These had been done on line 23 to 28 and lines 39 to 43 on page 3. On page 5, amendments were made on lines 17 to 21 and lines 2 to 6. Since these were substantive amendments, the objective memorandum had also been amended accordingly to reflect the changes, and this was reflected in page 7, paragraph 2.1.2, where two sentences had been inserted, and in paragraph 2.2.3 on page 8.

Mr B Bongo (ANC) moved the motion for the adoption of the amendments.

Ms M Mothapo (ANC) seconded the motion.

The motion was put to vote and six Members voted in favour of the motion --  the Chairperson, Mr  Bongo, Mr M Maila (ANC), Ms Mothapo, Mr L Mpumlwana (ANC), and Ms M Pilane-Majake (ANC).

Adv G Breytenbach (DA) expressed her reservation.

The report of the bill was adopted, and the above-named MPs all voted in favour of the adoption, while Adv G Breytenbach (DA) again expressed her reservation.

Pollsmoor court order: Follow-up report

The Regional Commissioner of Police in the Western Cape, Mr Delekile Klaas, briefed the Committee on the progress made since the court order handed down in the Cape Town High Court on 5 and 23 December 2016 in the Sonke Gender Justice vs the Government of South Africa matter.

The Pollsmoor management area had had various visits during 2015 and 2016, the most prominent being the visit of Judge Edwin Cameron on 27 July 2015, who issued a report on 13 August 2015. As a follow-up to his visit, Judge Johann van der Westhuizen had visited the management area on 21 January 2016. In response to Judge Cameron’s report, the Public Service Commission (PSC) had visited Pollsmoor on 5 April 2016. Following the visits, Sonke Gender Justice had lodged a High Court application against the Government of South Africa. The High Court had ordered that:

 

  • The government show cause by 10H00 on 21 December 2016 why the court should not order it forthwith to reduce the number of remand detainee population at Pollsmoor to not more than 120%. Affidavits in this regard must be served and filed by 14 December 2016.
  • To develop a comprehensive plan including timeframes for its:

- implementation to address the deficiencies in the provisioning of exercise, nutrition, accommodation, ablution facilities and health care services to the inmates at Pollsmoor remand detention facility and  

              - the deficiencies identified in prison visit reports by Judge Cameron by 31 January 2017.

  • Government was ordered by 31 January 2017 to file a plan and report to the court, setting out what it had done to bring an end to the unlawful conditions described, to respond to each of the recommendations in the Cameron report, what further steps it would take to bring an end to the unlawful conditions and when it would take place, and what further steps it would take to respond to each of the further recommendations of the Cameron report and when it would take each such further steps.
  • The government was ordered that by 31 January 2017, it had to submit the Area Manager’s findings and reports from the weekly inspections of cell accommodation required to be performed, to ensure that every cell conformed to the minimum requirements for the incarceration of prisoners, for the period December 2012 to date.

Commissioner Klaas told the Committee that the Department had developed an action plan that sought to address some of the challenges, and its implementation was being closely monitored. It had intensified its engagement with cluster departments, as overcrowding was influenced by various factors, such as high levels of crime, police arresting to investigate (instead of vice versa), minimum sentencing rules, and offenders unable to pay bail.  However, it needed to be mentioned that with all the efforts, the centre would not be able to operate and bring the accommodation levels down to 120%. Accordingly, the Department, through the Minister, had approached the Court to request the percentage of overcrowding be moved to 150%.

Following engagement with the JCPS cluster departments, a detailed cluster action plan was developed for closer collaboration between the Department, the SA Police Service (SAPS), the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the judiciary to promote alternative sentencing and the placement of offenders with bail less than R1 000 on probation under community correction. Pollsmoor Medium A, Goodwood and Malmesbury Medium prisons were converted to be full remand detention facilities to alleviate and assist in managing the influx from courts. This, however, had not totally alleviated the problem as the various centres within the Pollsmoor management area incarcerated different categories of people. The implication of converting the facilities to house remand detainees was that there was no facility for sentenced offenders in the metro. Accordingly, 1 000 sentenced offenders were transferred to the Free State and Northern Cape region, which meant that they were far from their families.

Furthermore, the Department is not only addressing challenges of overcrowding at Pollsmoor. The action plan developed sought to address overcrowding in the whole Western Cape region. Since the inception of the action plan, the total number of detainees at Pollsmoor had decreased significantly from 4 066 on 6 December 2016, representing 251% of capacity, to 2 608 by 28 April 2017, representing 161%.  By 28 April 2017, the combined total for the male remand detainees in the metro stood at 6 786, which included Pollsmoor, Medium A and the Goodwood remand facility.

Apart from the logistical arrangements with the detention of the various categories, the Management Area also addressed the deficiencies raised in the Judge Cameron and Public Service Commission reports, and the high court order. A permanent Head of the Correctional Centre was appointed, the management component at the centre was strengthened, and staff shortages addressed. All security vacancies in the centre were filled, with 20 additional members appointed. The Centre Coordinator of Operational Support was appointed in February 2017. Plans were also in progress to appoint an additional doctor for the management area, who would serve the remand detention facility.

The administration, which includes proper record keeping, the completion of registers and having systems of checks and balances, was receiving priority to have proper reliable records. All the issues around exercises, adequate beds, hygiene and assaults, had been addressed and were closely monitored. With regard to basic medical supplies and an insufficient supply of medication, there had been only one pharmacist working at Pollsmoor, who also served Goodwood, and this had had a negative impact on the turnaround time of availability of prescriptions. The turnaround time for issuing prescriptions had decreased from 48 hours to 24 hours after the appointment of one more permanent pharmacist, one community service pharmacist and one assistant pharmacist in February 2017. The opening of Goodwood pharmacy in 2015 had also decreased the workload of the Pollsmoor Pharmacy.

Regarding access to the library and reading materials, a post for a librarian was created and an official was appointed to manage and oversee the process. Currently, single cells were utilized as an informal library per unit as the distribution point of books, and books were then alternated amongst the units.

Condoms were available and placed in accessible areas in different units. Pollsmoor was in partnership with the service provider (HIV, TB Care Association) to conduct screening of inmates at reception on admission, as well as at an inmate’s request. TB campaigns were conducted as preventative measures, and all remand detainees were screened for TB and HIV on admission and when released on bail. The Department of Correctional Services was focusing its efforts on hiring more staff who were adequately trained, and retaining its current skilled staff.

With respect to the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster (JCPS) and other role players, the Department of Public Works was also assisting with the upgrading of the infrastructure of the facility, but had raised budgetary challenges which were being discussed. An integrated action plan had been developed in the cluster and discussed at all levels. The Office of the Chief Justice was spearheading talks with magistrates to consider alternative sentencing options and bail. The office of the National Prosecuting Authority, in conjunction with Correctional Services, was submitting the bulk Sec 63(A) applications for qualifying awaiting trial inmates to court on a weekly basis, and the regional office was currently monitoring the outcome.

Commissioner Klaas concluded that the maintenance budget within the Department was not adequate. The high level of crime in the Western Cape, with emphasis on the metro, was very worrying. There was also a need for a new 3 000 bed facility. The high staff turnover in the management area led to a loss of experienced employees. Lastly, the old infrastructure was not consistent with the provisions of the new Correctional Services Act.

Discussion

Mr Bongo (ANC) attributed some of the issues raised in the presentation to the after-effects of colonialism, referring to the comments on colonialism made by the Premier of the Western Cape, Ms Helen Zille, whom he erroneously referred to as the leader of the Democratic Alliance. He said that the correctional centres had been established pre-1994 to incarcerate black people – at which stage Adv Breytenbach raised a point of order over his comments on the leader of the DA, asking him to make a correction. Continuing, Mr Bongo wanted to know in what capacity Judge Cameron had visited Pollsmoor, as he was of the opinion such visits were supposed to be legislative responsibility of MPs. On the issue of the integrated Criminal Justice System, he said that there should be proper oversight by Parliament to lift this burden off the heads of the Department of Correctional Services. He pleaded that adequate support be given the Department.

Mr Maila agreed with Mr Bongo on the issue of colonialism. He said that if research were done on the demographics of remand detainees, it would show that was not every part of the population that was represented. He talked about the inter-relationship between gangsterism and violent crime, and said there was a need to address the root causes of such problems. He also stressed the need to work closely with the JCPS cluster and to have a comprehensive report from these role players. Speaking about the visit of the judge, he asked about the current situation and the ideal situation with regard to the shower availability at the remand centres.

Mr Mpumlwana asked if there were cameras in the cells, and suggested this would go a long way towards curbing gangsterism at the detention centres. He applauded the Department for a job well done.

Ms Pilane-Majake also supported the concerns raised by Mr Bongo on the visit of the judge. She wanted to know who had approved the visit and why the visit had not been done by the supervising judge. In her opinion, the visit may have been beneficial to the correctional centre, or may not have been, and she therefore wanted more information on that. She talked about the current number of political cases in court and asked if these cases would affect the speed at which cases affecting detainees were addressed. She wanted to know if there was history of the case instituted which had given rise to the order of the court. She lamented the non-action of the JCPS cluster on the number of detainees and reiterated the need for them to live up to their role. On the recommendations, she asked if they had been scientifically formulated.

The Chairperson said that no one was questioning the right of the judge to carry out an investigation or the validity of the court order. He was of the opinion that Members only wanted clarity on the visit of the judge.

Mr Klaas responded that there was a law which backed such visits by members of the judiciary. By doing so, they could see the outcomes and consequences of some of the decisions they made. This helped them to interact with some of the offenders. Such visits could generate reports which were only recommendations. He said that the order of the court was because of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which had taken the report of a judge to court. He also told the Committee that this law, which empowered the judges, predated 1994.

The Chairperson responded that this was a clash of interests between apartheid South Africa and modern South Africa. He therefore recommended the need for lawyers of Parliament to look at the matter.

Mr Mpumlwana said there was no need to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. He was responding to the issue of visits by judges. He told the Committee he had been visited by a magistrate when he was in detention, and this had helped him. He supported the need for judges to pay those visits so that they could see for themselves the conditions of the detainees. This also helped in assisting human right laws to be respected in prisons. Except where there were ulterior motives for such visits, he agreed with the position of the Department on the issue.

The Chairperson advised Members to look at the pre-1994 and current situation of SA, and then take an informed decision on any grey areas.

Mr Klaas, answering the question on the ideal and real situations, noted that Pollsmoor detention centre had originally been built to cater for 1 610 detainees. That was the ideal situation. This implied a 100% usage, but the Department had had to approach the courts to allow it to set the threshold to 120%. On the issue of cameras, these were currently installed in the new facilities being built, but they were installed only in the corridors and not in the cells. In the old facilities, such infrastructure was not available.

Sometimes communities put a lot of pressure on the system, taking the law into their own hands when the police did not make immediate arrests. The Department was carrying out a lot of public education to address these issues.

Mr Willem Damons, Acting Chief Deputy Commissioner (CDC), Department of Correctional Services told the Committee the Department had to return to the courts before the end of June to show that it had complied with the order of the court.

The Chairperson, in his closing remarks, commented on the need for the Department of Justice to give a detailed report on its programmes on human rights education.

The meeting was adjourned.

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