Update on Covid-19 in Correctional Centres & measures put in place under Level 3 (incl vaccination programme)

Justice and Correctional Services

19 February 2021


Meeting Summary

Video: Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services, 19 February 2021

In a virtual meeting, the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services (the Committee) was briefed by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) on implementing Covid-19 measures under alert level three of the national lockdown regulations, including the vaccination programme.

The Committee was concerned about overcrowding in DCS facilities, but was reassured adequate provision was in place to accommodate inmates in compliance with Covid-19 protocols.

Visits suspended at DCS facilities impacts the rights of inmates to consult with legal representatives, and can have serious implications for the administration of justice. The Committee viewed this as a risk, but the risk is mitigated by the DCS allowing telephonic contact for legal consultations, depending on the circumstances and resources.

The Committee confirmed it is in full support of DCS officials being defined as front-line workers who need to get vaccinated in phase one.   

Meeting report

The Chairperson said the meeting would start with the adoption of the Budgetary Review and Recommendation Reports (BRRRs) of the departments and entities.

The Chairperson said the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) officials had the choice of attending to more pressing issues and rejoining the meeting an hour later at 10h30. Mr Arthur Fraser, National Commissioner of DCS, agreed.

The Chairperson asked if a quorum was in place for the meeting to proceed.

The Secretary to the Committee confirmed six Members were present, which constituted a quorum.

The Chairperson welcomed the Deputy Minister, Nkosi Phathekile Holomisa (ANC), and said the meeting would begin with adopting the BRRRs as it had to be done by Tuesday, 23 February 2021. The Deputy Minister agreed to re-join the meeting at 10h30.

The Chairperson said the three issues are:
1) Adoption of the BRRRs;
2) Adoption of minutes; and
3) Report on the revised programme.

Revised Committee Programme
The Chairperson looked at the revised programme, and apologised to Members for underestimating the work the programme required. He said he did not anticipate Parliament adjourning on 26 March 2021. There was a knock on effect, namely, there had to be sufficient time, while observing the three-day rule, to properly adopt the Bill. Revising the programme was still a work-in-progress. He asked Member’s to indulge a meeting the following week. Members agreed to meet on Wednesday, 24 February 2021. 

DCS BRRR 2020/21
The Report was circulated. The Chairperson asked Members to note if any corrections had to be made.

Mr J Selfe (DA) was hesitant to follow the page-by-page approach to deal with corrections, and raised concerns about the overall problem with the Report, regarding credibility of measures. He proposed a solution to the problem which would not compromise the Report. To illustrate his point, he referred to three examples in the Report, which he found problematic. He referred to page three of the Report, listing the statistics on officials charged with corrupt activities.

Ms W Newhoudt-Druchen (ANC) said it would help her to follow, if Mr Selfe could refer to specific paragraphs in the report.

Mr Selfe referred to the statement in paragraph 4.8: “The Auditor-General (AG) could not obtain sufficient appropriate audit evidence [stating] disciplinary steps were taken against officials who had incurred irregular expenses.”

Secondly, the Committee was unable to verify the percentages in table five on page ten.

Lastly, the statement in paragraph 11.10: “the Committee is concerned by the rate of recidivism among parolees (75 parolees were re-arrested for committing new crimes, mostly house-breaking and theft)”. Here, he was not sure the Department provided accurate figures, and cautioned the Committee against endorsing unverified figures. He proposed the Committee should say it noted, instead of adopting, the reported figures.

The Chairperson asked Mr Selfe to allow the Committee time to decide on the matter. He told the Content Advisor (CA) to respond to the specific points raised by Mr Selfe. As a matter of procedure, he proceeded with following the page-by-page approach.

Corrections were proposed by Members in the following order:
Mr Horn: paragraph 2.4 and 2.5 – full stops needed at the end of both sentences
Mr Selfe: paragraph 2.1 – 31 - September each year changed to 30 September each year
Mr Selfe: paragraph 2.2 – 7 October 2019 changed to 7 October 2020
Mr Selfe: paragraph 4.1 – qualified audits dated back further than 2016/17 (CA to double check)
Mr Horn: paragraph 4.3 – full stop needed at the end of the sentence
Mr Horn: paragraph 8.2.2 – supprogramme replaced with sub-programme
Mr Horn: paragraph 8.5.1 – offender’s replaced with offenders’
Mr Horn: paragraph 10.3.2 – the term centres replaced with facilities
Mr Horn: paragraph 10.3.6 – Again, majority … replaced with Again, the majority … (last sentence)
Mr Horn: paragraph 11.6 – not happy replaced with dissatisfied (last sentence)
Mr S Swart (ACDP): paragraph 11.10 – disturbed replaced with concerned (first sentence)
Mr Horn: paragraph 11.12 – …achieved all the targets (first sentence) contradicted with …target for Offender Viral Load was not achieved (second sentence).

Mr Selfe said this contradiction proved his point about the inaccuracies in the Report.

The CA said the two issues were in respect of two different financial periods and should be separated.

To resolve the issue, Ms Newhoudt-Druchen proposed the wording 2019/20 financial year be added to the first sentence and the first quarter of 2020/21 be added to the second sentence.

Mr S Swart (ACDP): paragraph 11.14 – not happy replaced with dissatisfied (first sentence)
Mr Swart: paragraph 11.15 – seriously disturbed replaced with deeply concerned (last sentence)
Mr Horn: paragraph 12.12 – removed the space after the word targets (first sentence)

The Chairperson allowed the Members to address the issue raised by Mr Selfe.

Mr Selfe proposed the following sentence be added to paragraph 11.6 as caveat: The Committee does not have the means to verify the accuracy of the achievements in this Report (second sentence).

Mr Swart and Mr W Horn (DA) agreed the caveat would deal sufficiently with the matter.

Mr Swart proposed, amount, in paragraph 10.2.1, be rounded off to R67.158 million (last sentence).

Ms J Mofokeng (ANC) proposed that the word unhappiness be replaced with concern (last sentence)

The Report was adopted with reservations from the EFF, DA, and ACDP.

DOJ BRRR 2020/21
The Chairperson said the Department of Justice (DOJ) Report was a 91-page document.

Corrections were proposed by Members in the following order:
Mr Horn: paragraph 1.6 – cannot replaced with could not
Ms Mofokeng: Table1 – frustrated replaced with concerned - Commencement of Protection of Personal Information Act (POPIA) issue (page 11)
Mr Horn: Table 4 – apparent duplication in 2018/19 and 2019/20 columns (pages 21-22)

The CA replied the information was in respect of repeat findings, and was not a duplication.

Mr Horn: paragraph 10.13.2 – budget cut replaced with budget cuts (first sentence).
Mr Horn: paragraph 14.10 – the following addition was proposed; … at the soonest possible opportunity, the Committee wants to engage with the Master’s Office, about the progress on improvements to rectify challenges experienced (second sentence).

Mr Horn said he heard complaints on a regular basis about the Master’s Office.

The Chairperson said this was one of the issues which concerned the late ANC MP, Adv Mohamed, before his death. The matter should be prioritised after the March 2021 recess.

Ms Mofokeng: paragraph 14.1.2 – observed replaced with noted (first sentence).

The CA said it was an observation the Committee made, based on the National Prosecuting Authority’s presentation.

Ms Mofokeng preferred the word acknowledged, instead of observed.

Ms Y Yako (EFF) asked if acknowledged, meant committing oneself.

The Chairperson replied that the Committee acknowledged the new leadership, and observed a difference during the last appearance.

Ms Mofokeng asked for guidance on using noted, or acknowledged.

Ms Newhoudt-Druchen preferred the word noted.

The Chairperson asked for noted to be accepted, for the sake of time. He said upon reading the report the previous evening, he realised the Public Service Commission (PSC), referred to in paragraph 14.2.2, should be reporting to the House. He proposed the PSC be given a timeframe of eight months, meaning, until the end of October 2021, to appear before the Committee.

The Report was adopted with reservations from the EFF, DA, and ACDP.

Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ) BRRR 2020/21
The Chairperson asked the CA to correct the spelling of the word sub-programme on page 11, (paragraph seven).

Ms Mofokeng proposed the word unhappiness in the first sentence of paragraph 10.1, be replaced with dissatisfaction.

The Report was adopted with reservations from the DA, and ACDP.

Other Matters
Mr Horn thanked the Committee officials for assisting Members with compiling the BRRRs. The task, during a very disruptive period, was more difficult than previous years. The Committee owed the officials a vote of thanks.

The Chairperson agreed it was an unusual year under which the officials carried out duties. The Committee appreciated officials’ work, professionalism, and competence. He said Mr Horn spoke on behalf of all committee members.

Committee minutes dated 16 February 2021
Mr Swart asked for budgetary cut to be replaced with budgetary cuts, at the bottom of page two.

The amended minutes were adopted.

Committee minutes dated 17 February 2021
The minutes were adopted without any amendments.

Matter arising
The Chairperson said the letter to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, about the programme change, would be signed off on 19 February 2021. The issue would be discussed on Wednesday, 24 February 2021. The Chairperson concluded the first part of the meeting.

Sub-Committee meeting on Correctional Services
Ms Mofokeng took over the proceedings as Co-Chairperson of the sub-committee meeting on Correctional Services.

The Co-Chairperson accepted the apology of Mr R Dyantyi (ANC).

She welcomed Deputy Minister Holomisa, and asked him to make his opening remarks.

Deputy Minister Opening Remarks
The Deputy Minister thanked the Committee for the opportunity to brief Members on Covid-19 measures put in place under level three, and the Covid-19 vaccination plan in the DCS. He proceeded with the presentation.

DCS Update on COVID19 and measure put in place under alert level 3 of the national lockdown regulations
Since December 2019, the global health community continued to grapple with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which negatively affected health systems, the economy, and overall well-being of citizens. It was critical for all individuals to continue with strict adherence to non-pharmaceutical intervention, which included physical distancing, wearing masks, and frequently washing hands with soap and water, or regularly sanitising hands to minimise the impact of Covid-19. Although the country started reporting a decrease in new Covid-19 cases after a severe second wave, scientists cautioned of a looming third, and even a fourth wave.

The DCS developed Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) for providing guidance on mitigation strategies which must be implemented to prevent, detect, and respond, to Covid-19 in DCS facilities. The SOPs were reviewed as required to incorporate new developments on the Covid-19 pandemic. The current version of the SOPs was version three, which was aligned to the government lockdown categories.

The Department reported 6 850 Covid-19 cases among officials, and 3 776 among inmates, as at 31 January 2021. This accounted for 0.47% and 0.26% respectively, of the national Covid-19 cases (1 453 761), as reported by the Department of Health.

The high number of inmates affected in the Eastern Cape reflected the impact of the pandemic in the region. It is also the region where the first infection in DCS was identified, and where the new variant of the virus was detected.

Measures Implemented under Level three, includes the following:
-Health care work sessions: video, virtual, or contact sessions, depending on the nature of the session.
-Inmate referrals to public health facilities: limited to medical emergencies.
-Inmate visits by external healthcare providers: allowed in medical emergencies.
--Visits by members of the public: suspended, except for essential and permitted service providers.
Legal consultations with inmates: suspended, however communication takes place telephonically.
-Transfer of inmates: prohibited, except under exceptional circumstances, as approved by the Regional Commissioner.
-Monitoring compliance at community corrections: physical monitoring limited to high-risk parolees, and probationers, in collaboration with South African Police Services (SAPS), and South African National Defence Force (SANDF), where possible. Monitoring low-risk categories take place telephonically, or electronically.
-Bail payments of remand detainees: payment receipts accepted at court facilities.

DCS Vaccine Roll-Out Plan
The Department established a Covid-19 Vaccine Roll-Out Vaccination Committee (VROCC) guided by the Health Advisory Committee. Health care workers and HRD officials attended vaccine training sessions, and are equipped to roll-out the training on a regional level. Health care workers used the Electronic Vaccine Data System (EVDS) to self-register for vaccination. The Department of Health started training identified vaccinators and administrators.

The DCS is working closely with the Department of Health to ensure alignment with the government roll-out programme. It is in the process of finalising identifying internal vaccination points, to limit inmate movement.

The Department of Health would be the sole provider of vaccines for the DCS. Given the limited availability of vaccines, and taking into account the three phases of the roll-out programme, the Deputy Minister said the DCS officials should be considered for vaccination in Phase One, and not Phase Two.

The National Commissioner said the Deputy Minister captured the entire presentation, and the team was ready to field questions from Members.

The Co-Chairperson wanted to know if Members needed the presentation to be flighted, or if the question-and-answer session could proceed.

Mr Selfe said Members were ready to proceed with the questions.

Ms Yako agreed.

Mr Selfe said the Deputy Minister covered some of the issues he had problems with. He agreed with prioritising officials as front-line workers, but wanted to know more about crowded facilities in remand centres. Firstly, it did not seem possible to isolate for 14 days in some facilities. Secondly, visits to centres were suspended. He questioned what the implications and risks were for the administration of justice, if further charges were pursued and inmates were unable to confer with legal representatives.

Ms Newhoudt-Druchen asked if the medical staff within DCS would be considered for the first phase of the vaccination programme. She wanted to know if community correction centres would be able to monitor detainees during this time.

Ms N Maseko-Jele (ANC) agreed with DCS medical staff being first in line. She referred to the recent arrests at the border posts which the Minister of Home Affairs alluded to on TV, and wanted to know if those arrested were in the DCS facilities, or taken somewhere else.

The Co-Chairperson said during the first phase of Covid-19, DCS officials were labelled as carriers of the virus in media reports. She asked how the Department dealt with the stigma.

DCS Response
In response to the query about quarantine facilities for remand detainees, Mr Joseph Katenga, Chief Deputy Commissioner: Strategic Management, DCS, said each Centre provided for a separate location to observe detainees for 14 days. Detainees with symptoms were transferred to management areas. In circumstances where isolation spaces become unavailable, the Department follows Covid-19 protocols.

Ms Anna Molepo, Chief Deputy Commissioner: Community Corrections, DCS, said the Department provided training on how Covid-19 manifests and how it could be prevented. The training is provided at Community Correction Centres. Regarding isolation sites, psychosocial support is provided to officials and inmates. Informed officials spread the information within the communities where officials live.

The National Commissioner said the Department was able to track and monitor detainees at Community Correction Centres through Infection, Prevention and Control (IPC) measures. Overcrowding remained a challenge, but was managed through actions taken by Heads of Centres. The National Commissioner said there was no indication foreigners arrested at the border posts were sent to DCS facilities. He assumed foreign detainees were kept separately at the Lindelani facility. Replying to the issue of suspended visits, he said inmates were allowed to communicate telephonically with legal representatives.

Further Discussion
The Co-Chairperson asked about the Department’s readiness for the vaccination programme roll-out, and asked how much personal protective equipment (PPEs) cost the Department.

Ms Newhoudt-Druchen said she missed the response to the question on medical professionals in DCS. Referring to the vaccine roll-out plan as per slide 19 of the presentation, she asked if any of the correctional services medical professionals were included in the plan. She wanted to know about specific measures taken to mitigate the risks for babies under two years, and the risks for incarcerated mothers who contracted the Covid-19 virus.

Ms Maseko-Jele asked about the number of deaths which occurred within the DCS centres.

DCS Response
Mr Nick Ligege, Chief Financial Officer (CFO): DCS, gave a break-down of the R296 million spent to date on PPE, as at the end of January 2021. It is: R206 million on Goods and Services, R86.5 million on Medical Supplies, and R4.7 million on Machinery.

Ms Cynthia Ramulifho, Chief Deputy Commissioner: Remand Detention, DCS, replied to the question of vaccination readiness. She said health care workers will be vaccinated at sites of the National Department of Health (NDOH). This is done as part of Phase One of the roll-out plan. Medical practitioners are required to register on the NDOH system to be considered for vaccination. Internally, the DCS has a Vaccination Coordinating Committee managing Phase Two of the plan, as it relates to inmates.

With regard to babies of incarcerated mothers, she said babies older than two years are returned to family members. Social workers and nurses take care of babies younger than two years, if the mothers are quarantined. Thereafter, the babies are safely reunited with the mothers, to ensure the babies are well cared for. The reported number of deaths as at 31 January 2021 was 62 inmates, and 160 officials.

In the absence of further questions, the Co-Chairperson said the National Commissioner and Deputy Minister can make closing remarks.

Closing Remarks
The National Commissioner said the Department remained extremely vulnerable during this period, due to the in-and-out movements in the Remand Centres. To maintain the integrity of the centres, continuous engagement took place with officials and inmates about the adherence to protocol. In addition, officials were exposed to further vulnerability when returning to the communities where officials lived. The Department provided the Committee with the updated statistics on the number of deaths up to 17 February 2021.

The Deputy Minister appreciated the decline in the number of deaths amongst officials and inmates. Non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as physical distancing, wearing masks, and frequently washing or regularly sanitising hands, were enforced by officials. He thanked the Committee for agreeing to DCS officials being regarded as front-line workers. He became worried when Mr Selfe was reported as saying in a newspaper article, DCS officials should not get preference. He was reassured the Committee is in full support of the request for officials to be prioritised.

Mr Selfe said he fully supports vaccination of DCS officials.

The Co-Chairperson thanked Members for the deliberation, and the meeting was adjourned.