Correctional Services Amendment Bill:Deliberations

NCOP Security and Justice

07 September 2001
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report


7 September 2001

Acting Chairperson: Mr T Setona

Relevant documents:
Correctional Services Amendment Bill [B8-2001]
Proposed Amendments to Criminal Procedure Act by Department of Justice - Release or amendment of bail conditions of accused on account of prison conditions (this will be available when amended)

The Head of Health services at Pollsmoor prison made a presentation to the Committee on the state of affairs at the prison. It was evident from the presentation that many of the problems at the prison stem from the organisational structure which is still very much the same as it had been under the old Apartheid regime.

The burning issue was the problem of overcrowding at prisons and the Chair felt that
the Departments of Justice and Correctional Services should have worked together in trying to come up with solutions in this regard. They were working on opposite sides of the fence even though their objective was the same. He was disappointed that they had not taken the initiative to co-operate with one another. The Committee postponed deliberating on the Bill as they were awaiting proposals by the departments on how to deal with the problem of overcrowding in prisons.

Cape Clinical Forensic Practitioners Society
Dr P Theron, the Head of Health Services at Pollsmoor Prison, made an oral presentation to the Committee on the dire state of affairs at Pollsmoor prison and the difficulties that he is currently experiencing as a medical physician of the prison. A major problem facing the prison was huge overcrowding. This problem was prevalent in both the maximum (adult) and the medium A (juvenile) sections.

The problem could be addressed if they had the necessary structural support but unfortunately it was lacking at present. The root cause of many of the prison's problems is that the prison is still run in the old military style. The prison had been left behind, when South Africa experienced a taste for democracy for the first time. As the status quo had been maintained at the prison, it had a direct impact on health and hygiene in the prison.

When new prisoners arrive at the prison they are not checked for diseases neither are they afforded the luxury of a bath or clean clothes. Prisoners therefore disappear into the prison populace taking their diseases both physical and mental with them. Part of the problem lies in the fact that the prison is understaffed. In the juvenile sickbay alone there had been major downsizing in nursing staff from fourteen to four. This does not help much for the morale of staff.

Dr Theron did not solely put the blame for the state of affairs on the Department of Correctional Services. He felt it to be the responsibility of the Departments for Health, Security, Justice and Welfare and that there should be inter-departmental co-operation amongst them. The issue of health care in the prison could not be addressed until problems in its broader environment have been solved. The proposal was made that health care of prisoners should be placed under the Department of Health. The Department of Correctional Services is doing its best under the circumstances but it is not their field of expertise.

The Acting Chairperson, Mr Setona (ANC) stated that he does not get a sense of how Pollsmoor's lack of structural support directly relates to the problem of overcrowding. It was felt that the emphasis of the presentation seemed to be on health issues rather than on the current issue of overcrowding.

Dr Theron stated that the prison is overcrowded because there was a lack of proper planning. Communication between departments was lacking. Many of the prisoners at present in Pollsmoor do not have to be there. Many of them are guilty of petty offences and were simply not able to afford their bail monies. Others are in prison for being in contempt of court because they are ignorant of the way in which the judiciary functions. It seemed evident that there was a whole range of reasons why certain prisoners ought not to be incarcerated.

Mr A Mokoena (ANC, Gauteng) asked if it was felt that the legislation does not address the issues that were raised. Do other prisons experience similar problems.

Dr Theron stated that the Bill does not go far enough. Greater flexibility needs to be created. The Legislature is not seeing the problems directly.
Dr Theron said that he did not have direct knowledge of the conditions at other prisons but added that from what he heard from colleagues it seems to be that overcrowding seems to be a common problem at most prisons.

The Chair stated that he appreciates the problem of overcrowding but he felt that it was practically not possible to implement the structural and organisational changes that are being called for in the short or medium term.
He asked the Departments of Justice and Correctional Services to repectively give their comments.

Mr L Basset, Chief Director for Legislation Development at the Department of Justice stated that they had been asked to look at Clause 30(b) of the Bill as it directly relates to the bail provisions in the Criminal Procedure Act (CPA). They are proposing to make amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act in this regard. He asked if it would not be appropriate for the Justice Portfolio Committee to deal with the amendments. He had spoken to the Chairperson of the Justice Portfolio Committee, Adv de Lange about amending the Criminal Procedure Act. Adv de Lange had no objections to the Justice Portfolio Committee dealing with the matter.

Adv Nziba from the Department of Correctional Services stated that the proposed amendments to the CPA do not seem to be in conflict with the objects of the Bill. He pointed out that he would only be able to constructively comment on the proposed amendments once he had carefully scrutinised it. Adv Nziba stated that it is not the intention of the Department of Correctional Services to solve the problem of overcrowding in prisons by setting free hardened criminals.

The idea is to alleviate the numbers in prisons by allowing for the conditional release of prisoners who have committed petty offences. It is for this reason that amendments to bail provisions would be welcome. Correctional Services needs to be empowered to make decisions about prisoners when problems occur, without having to go to the courts to try to solve it. Adv Nziba felt that the doctrine of the separation of powers has been blown out of proportion. Why should an application be made to a magistrate for the release of a prisoner? The process of metering out justice ends at the prison level and it would only be appropriate for decisions to be made at that level when a problem occurs. Adv Nziba conceded that the process is complex but stated that the proposed amendments to the CPA is a step in the right direction.

The Chair agreed that the issue is complex. He was disappointed that the two departments had not been working hand in hand on the issue. Mr Setona asked both the departments of Justice and Correctional Services to co-operate with one another so as to have a concerted effort in dealing with issues.

The departments agreed henceforth to work together.

The Committee delayed deliberations on the Bill as they were awaiting the proposals of the departments on the problem of overcrowding at prisons.

The meeting was adjourned.


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