ATC091117: Report Oversight Visits to Pollsmoor and Malmesbury Correctional Centres in the Western Cape

Correctional Services



1.         Introduction

1.1        On 5 and 6 August 2009 a delegation of the Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services undertook the Committee’s first official site visits when it visited the Pollsmoor and Malmesbury correctional centres in the Western Cape.

1.2.       Most of South Africa’s correctional centres pre-date 1994 and the facilities are not conducive to the implementation of the rehabilitation and reintegration ideals and strategies contained in the 2005 White Paper on Corrections. Central to the success of these strategies is the unit management concept, which requires the division of correctional centres into small manageable units accommodating small groups of offenders that can be easily supervised and monitored. This not only limits security risks, but also facilitates the implementation of the necessary development and rehabilitation programmes, while ensuring that detention is safe and secure and that the treatment and care of offenders fall within the parameters of South Africa’s human rights framework.

1.3        The report comprises an overview of particularly the occupancy at the centres at the time of the visit, a number of the Committee’s major observations as well as comments and recommendations. It is important to note that more than anything the visits were aimed at giving the Committee opportunity to acclimatise and get to know what the day-to-day operation of a correctional facility involves, and the major challenges impeding successful service delivery by the DCS. Much of what was observed reflect challenges experienced in most centres across the country, and will serve in giving direction to the Committee’s own oversight programme and objectives for the coming four years.


2.         Delegation

2.1        The delegation that visited Pollsmoor Correctional Centre on Wednesday, 5 August comprised the following Members:

Mr V Smith (ANC) (Chairperson), Ms W Ngwenya (ANC), Ms M Mdaka (ANC), Mr A Fritz (DA), Mr J Selfe (DA) and Ms C Blaai (COPE).

2.2        The delegation that visited Malmesbury Correctional Centre on Thursday, 6 August comprised the following Members:

Mr V Smith (ANC) - Chairperson, Ms W Ngwenya (ANC), Ms M Mdaka (ANC), Mr A Fritz (DA) and Mr J Selfe (DA).


3.         Context

3.1        The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) in its 2007/08 Annual Report identified a number of challenges prevalent in South Africa’s correctional system. Chief amongst these is chronic prison overcrowding: the 237 operating correctional centres in South Africa were designed to accommodate 114 559 offenders, but at the end of January 2008 were approximately 45% overcrowded, accommodating 165 987 offenders, the bulk ofwhom were remand detainees. Overcrowding, coupled with, amongst others, the fact that most of the centres pre-date 1994, and were designed to merely imprison, means that implementing programmes necessary to promote rehabilitation and social-reintegration as envisioned in the White Paper on Corrections is near impossible. Prisons built to “warehouse” offenders do not lend themselves to the splitting up of offenders into manageable units, bringing about security challenges, and impeding service delivery.

3.2        The centres identified for the Committee’s first site visits were selected because they provided the opportunity to contrast the old “Apartheid” style warehouse-type correctional centres, and the newer more modern centres designed with the principles of unit management in mind. Pollsmoor, the older of the two centres was approximately 75% overcrowded at the time of the visit, and Members experienced first hand how overcrowding impacted on the DCS’ service delivery to inmates. The Medium A centre at Malmesbury on the other hand is a Centre of Excellence (CoE) that at the time of the visit was only overcrowded by 10 inmates and illustrated the positive impact unit management had on the delivery of rehabilitation and reintegration programmes, as well as on the maintenance of discipline and security.


4.         Pollsmoor Correctional Centre

4.1        The Pollsmoor Management Area is situated in Tokai and comprises the following five centres:

Ø       Admission Centre, accommodating largely adult male remand awaiting-trial detainees, and those offenders with further charges;

Ø       Female Centre is a Centre of Excellence (CoE) accommodating female children, juvenile, adult unsentenced (awaiting-trial) and sentenced offenders as well as pregnant women and mothers with babies;

Ø       Medium A, accommodating male child and juvenile offenders as well as those juveniles with further charges;

Ø       Medium B, accommodating male sentenced offenders and those with further charges; and

Ø       Medium C, the pre-release centre accommodating those male offenders who will be released/paroled within the next two years [not visited by the delegation].

4.2        The Pollsmoor management area can accommodate a total of 4 336 inmates, but on 3 August housed 7 525, 4 892 of whom were remand detainees.


5.         Malmesbury Correctional Centre

5.1        The Malmesbury correctional centres visited fall within the West Coast Management Area and are situated in Malmesbury, approximately 65km outside of Cape Town in the Swartland District. Of the 3 correctional centres in the area, only the following two were visited:

Ø      Medium A, which is a Centre of Excellence (CoE) accommodating only male sentenced offenders; and

Ø      Medium B, accommodating male remand detainees.


5.2.       The Medium A centre started operating in 1997 and was designed in accordance with unit management principles. It comprises amongst others an admission centre, six housing units (cell blocks), a hospital unit, a pre-release unit, textile workshops, sports fields and classrooms. The Medium B centre, a much older structure, was 213% overcrowded at the time of the visit. It has none of the facilities available at the Medium A centre and the remand detainees housed there spend most of their time in the grossly overcrowded cells. The Medium A centre, designed to house 1 338, housed 1 348 sentenced offenders at the time of the visit, while the Medium B centre designed for 175, housed 382 remand detainees.

6.         Observations

6.1        Pollsmoor Correctional Centre

6.1.1     The Admission Centre, housing male remand detainees was grossly overcrowded with one of the cells visited sleeping 80 despite having been designed to accommodate 35. The Centre can accommodate 1 619 detainees, but on 3 August 2009 housed 4 200. The conditions are unhygienic and unhealthy with detainees spending most of their day in the cells, sharing not only the single shower and toilet per cell, but many also sharing beds.

6.1.2          At the time of the visit, the Medium A centre housed 45 unsentenced and 12 sentenced male child offenders, and the Female Centre housed 5 unsentenced and 1 sentenced female child offender, aged 15. Children are accommodated separately from the juvenile and adult population. Many of the child and juvenile remand detainees have been sentenced for petty crimes but their parents or guardians either refuse or are unable to pay the small bail amounts or fines that have been set for them. Some children were serving sentences as short as 5 days, and the process of tracing their addresses often took too much time for it to be a pointless exercise. Where it is not possible to trace their parents or the children refuse to provide physical addresses, the DCS has no choice but to detain them. While much is done to ensure that they are placed in the Department of Social Development - managed secure care centres, placement is not always possible as these facilities also have limited bed space.

6.1.3          Only 291 of the 1 246 male juveniles had been sentenced, and 742 of the 955 unsentenced male juveniles had no bail for various reasons including that they were flight risks, had committed serious crimes and were repeat offenders. The female section accommodated 64 juveniles, of whom 39 were unsentenced. As with the adult remand detainees, the unsentenced juvenile detainees did not participate in any educational, development or work programmes. Alarmingly 183 of the male juveniles had bail of less than R 1 000, and only one had bail of more than R2 000. Although the Committee is pleased that through a number of interventions introduced since Parliament’s last visit in October 2007 the figures have been reduced by 15.39%, the number of juveniles still remained too high.

6.1.4          At the time of the visit one foreign national was being detained after having been arrested for not having the necessary travel permits. Pollsmoor had no facilities to detain foreign nationals awaiting repatriation and such individuals are detained with other awaiting-trial detainees. The region transports illegal immigrants to the Lindelani repatriation centre in Johannesburg every two weeks, provided there are sufficient numbers to be transported by bus. While the management of the centre acknowledged the trauma detention with the ordinary remand population might expose illegal immigrants to, it was clear that given the gross overcrowding at the Centre and the inadequacy of the facilities, little can currently be done to address the situation.


6.1.5          The Committee found that the hospital section was well equipped and fairly well managed. At the time of the visit 58 sentenced offenders and 35 remand detainees were being hospitalised. Two wheel-chair bound sentenced offenders were permanently accommodated in this section. Inmates with multi-drug resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB) were admitted to an isolation ward. Some of the inmates hospitalised were ill enough not to pose a threat to society and could have been conditionally released to the care of a hospice or their families. Detaining someone who was wheelchair-bound or so ill he or she could not function was contrary to the principles of humane detention. The Committee acknowledges that the cost of hospice care and the fact that many of the offenders’ families are so poor they are unable to care for their ill relatives, makes conditional release nearly impossible.


6.1.6          Officials informed the delegation that sexual violence and gangsterism was particularly prevalent in the overcrowded Admission and Medium A centres, but that it was under-reported. The area did have a comprehensive anti-gang strategy but the challenge persists. Upon admission offenders are made aware of the dangers of joining prison gangs, but the fact that many offenders are already gang members upon their incarceration makes it difficult to prevent their gang activity.


6.1.7          Nutrition services at the centre are outsourced and the kitchen appeared to be well run and hygienic. In line with the legal requirements, inmates received 3 nutritionally-balanced meals a day.


6.1.8          Both sentenced male and female offenders can elect to take part in education and/or work programmes. Providing programmes to remand detainees was not possible as they were not sentenced, and could be released at any time, making participation and completion of courses difficult. All offenders can participate in work programmes provided they met certain requirements, and depending on their security classification and willingness, but some complained of being arbitrarily prohibited from working. These complaints were disputed but the centre management nevertheless undertook to follow them up. Overcrowding, staff shortage, inadequate facilities and an inadequate budget impacted on the delivery of work programmes. It was envisaged that once the Department has fully converted from a 5 day to a 7 day work week, more staff would be available and that more work programmes would then be rolled out to inmates.


6.1.9          The management of the centre complained that many offenders were not willing to attend educational programmes and could not be forced to do so. The Department of Labour (DOL) provided funds for programmes, but because offenders needed to have ID numbers to participate, many refused for fear that should they apply for identity documents, they would be linked to other crimes. The roll out of educational programmes was also limited due to the lack of facilities and shortage of teachers.


6.1.10      In the female section many offenders complained of not having been visited by their families. This was reported to be a challenge across all of the Pollsmoor centres and was the result of “an administrative bottleneck” that prevented visitations.


6.1.11      Of the 166 remand detainees in the female section for whom no bail had been set, 80% were repeat offenders. The vast majority of women spoken to had committed theft or fraud.


6.1.12      At the time of the visit Pollsmoor accommodated 8 women with babies: 1 remand detainee accused of murder and with no bail, and 7 sentenced offenders, most having committed economic crimes. There were also 9 pregnant offenders: 2 sentenced and 7 remand detainees, one with bail of only R200 which she was unable to raise. The youngest baby at the centre was 7 weeks old, and the oldest 14 months. At least two of the women were repeat offenders who felt that they had no choice but to steal in order to provide for their children and families. While the women agreed that being raised in prison had adverse effects on their babies, none of them felt able to release their children to the care of their families who were in economic dire straits already, and were not willing to have their babies fostered until their release. While all mothers with babies were accommodated in single cells, the state of the cells was a matter of concern. As lock-up time was at 14h30, mothers and babies are confined to their tiny cells for much of the day.


6.1.13      Some offenders in the female section had complained of searching being done in a manner that violates their rights. Centre management explained that searching was done in line with what was prescribed by the legislation. Thorough searching of offenders returning from court is vital as contraband is often smuggled into the Centre via offenders who had spent the day at court waiting to have their cases heard, giving them ample opportunity to interact with other members of the public as well as other offenders.


6.1.14   The Committee is pleased that efforts are underway to upgrade the Pollsmoor Correctional Centre and hopes that this will result in improved security and delivery of services to offenders. In addition three new generation correctional centres are due for completion within the next year: Vanrynsdorp (April 2010), Brandvlei (July/August 2010), Ceres (July/August 2010). These centres that are being built in accordance with unit management principles will create 2 000 additional bed spaces in the area.


6.2        Malmesbury Correctional Centre

6.2.1     The Committee was impressed by the pre-release centre where offenders are accommodated prior to their release and where they attend a number of programmes aimed at facilitating their reintegration into society. These included work programmes, weekend parole and day-orientation programmes. A restorative justice programme run by a local religious leader and a social worker assists with reconciling victims and offenders.

6.2.2     Educational programmes are run in small groups designed for maximum success. Although a total of 375 offenders had enrolled for the various educational programmes at the start of 2009, that number had been reduced to 266 due to gangsterism, loss of interest and offender transfers to other centres. The Centre currently employs 4 teachers and 8 custodial staff who are also trained teachers, but who have had no success in having their status transferred to that of teachers. At the moment there are 5 vacancies and the shortage of teachers has resulted in the Centre not being able to implement the new curriculum. The management of the Centre explained that the moratorium on appointments affected teachers too and that until that was lifted the DCS will not be able to appoint more educationalists.

6.2.3     The Centre had both a textile and a production workshop. The textile workshop provided centres across the country with prison uniforms. Offenders also received training in basic occupational skills such as cabinet-making. The activity of the workshops depends on the demand for the products and if centres in other management areas do not place orders, activity at the workshops is affected. Offenders received a very small gratuity for their participation in work programmes.

6.2.4     The management area has received approximately R5,5 million from the DOL to train offenders in various courses aimed at increasing their employability upon release. Despite the availability of funds the DCS’ implementation of such programmes is hampered by its difficulty to attract and retain artisans. Officials indicated that as was the case across the country the management area has difficulty filling their artisan vacancies. Artisans fell outside the occupational specific dispensation (OSD) for engineers and it was hoped that when the OSD for artisans was finalised the situation would improve.

6.2.5     The area’s care programmes comprise social work, psychological services, spiritual and moral development, health care and HIV/AIDS programmes. Although the intention to roll these out and deliver them is there, shortage of funds, particularly the very small allocation to the development programme, was seriously impeding delivery.

6.2.6     The Medium B Centre was grossly overcrowded. As was the case at Pollsmoor many of the detainees complained of courts postponing cases and inadequate legal representation. Some reported that although charges against them had been withdrawn by the victims, some judges refused to withdraw their cases. As was the case at Pollsmoor many of the detainees had bail set, but were unable to afford it. While complaints from offenders were dealt with internally, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services also had its role to play where complaints were lodged with them.

6.2.7     Both sentenced inmates and remand detainees made allegations of assault, intimidation and torture against correctional officials at the Centre. These were disputed and Members were assured that while inmates might not always receive the kinds of responses to complaints they wanted no assaults by officials were tolerated. The Committee nevertheless considers the allegations serious enough to warrant further investigation by the DCS.

6.2.8     Offenders in the pre-release unit complained of unfair treatment by officials and that certain offenders were given special treatment, and allowed to stay in the pre-release centre although they did not qualify for it. This allegation was disputed and the management of the Centre explained that the inmates allegedly receiving preferential treatment were in fact working at the Centre, have release dates but have been rejected by their families and therefore have no fixed address to be released to.

6.2.9     Unlike at Pollsmoor where nutrition services were outsourced, the Malmesbury correctional centres provided nutrition services and prepared food themselves. Offenders complained that meals were not nutritious. Staff explained that as they got their meat supply from local abattoirs, they could not always predict the cuts of particularly red meat they would get.


7.         Comments and Recommendations

7.1        Overcrowding

7.1.1     Much of the overcrowding observed at both centres was due to large numbers of remand detainees, and the Committee is aware that this is the case at correctional centres across the country. It is clear that should remand detainees be removed from correctional centres overcrowding would be radically reduced, leaving the DCS able to focus on the implementation of its core mandate – the secure care and rehabilitation of sentenced offenders. The Committee welcomes the interventions emanating from the criminal justice review process and will have a series of interactions with experts and stakeholders to better understand the causes of and possible solutions to overcrowding. While it realises that much of the responsibility for reducing the number of remand detainees lies with the judiciary, the Committee emphasises that the DCS must impress the impact overcrowding has on the delivery of rehabilitation programmes upon cluster partners, and should if necessary take the lead in finding joint cluster solutions to the situation. The Committee will closely monitor the conversion of the 11 centres earmarked to become remand centres, and the DCS is to provide the Committee with regular updates on the progress on this and other interventions.

7.1.2     The above-mentioned intervention must be accompanied by increased efforts by the DCS to improve on its community corrections system thus making it an attractive and feasible alternative sentencing option. Increasing the use of non-custodial sentencing will not only further reduce overcrowding, but will also spare those offenders who do not pose a threat to society from the trauma of incarceration and, in the long run, reduce recidivism.


7.2               Health care

7.2.1          The Committee feels strongly that seriously ill inmates should not be incarcerated, not only because it is inhumane, but also because detaining inmates who, due to their medical conditions could not possibly pose a threat to society comes at a huge cost to the state. Where possible those inmates who are seriously ill should be conditionally released to hospices and the DCS should increase efforts to build partnerships in this regard. The Committee welcomes the intended review of the medical parole system, and hopes that it will bring relief to seriously ill inmates too, and not only those who are terminally ill.

7.2.2          The Committee is very concerned about the spread of communicable diseases such as TB among offenders and remand detainees accommodated in extremely overcrowded cells. Extra special care should be taken to prevent the spread of such diseases, and infected offenders and detainees should be isolated from the healthy population until there is no further risk of contamination.

7.2.3          Many of the inmates complained that they were sometimes denied medical care and were at times not referred to a medical professional when they reported that they needed medical attention. The relevant legislative provisions and policies regarding care of inmates should be adhered to at all times and offenders who request medical care or lodge complaints during the daily requests and complaints roll call should be assisted.


7.3        Education and development programmes

7.3.1     The Committee was most concerned that because remand detainees were not sentenced offenders, they could not participate in school and development programmes. While the Committee acknowledges the difficulty in coordinating such programmes for a population that is constantly in flux, it hopes that the recently constituted interdepartmental task team headed by the DCS and charged with developing a strategy for the care and treatment of remand detainees, will develop a workable solution which will ensure that time spent in remand detention will be spent much more productively.

7.3.2     Much more should be done to ensure that more offenders sign up for education and skills development programmes. The Committee acknowledges the limitations placed on the DCS by the teacher and trainer shortage, and feels that innovative solutions should be found to ensure that the necessary skills are attracted and retained. Where possible existing partnerships with other departments and non-governmental organisations (NGO) should be strengthened and new ones forged to ensure delivery of these important development programmes.

7.3.3          As stated in the Committee’s report on the DCS 2009/10 budget, the funds allocated to the care and development programmes do not speak to the DCS rehabilitation and reintegration goals. More funds should be allocated to such programmes, and strategic partnerships should be made with NGOs and other experts to ensure greater delivery on programmes aimed at providing offenders with the skills necessary to get employment or better still become self-employed.


7.4        Women with babies

7.4.1     The 2008 amendments to the Correctional Services legislation provides that babies will be allowed to stay with the mothers until they are 2 years old, and thus considered old enough to be separated from their mothers. While the lowering of the age from 5 to 2 years is welcomed, the Committee believes that further research on the impact of incarceration on very young children should be conducted and if necessary stricter guidelines should be developed for their care. Pending the outcome of such studies mothers and their babies should as far as possible be accommodated in facilities that are as near normal as possible to ensure that the negative impact on babies’ socialisation is kept to the bare minimum.


7.5        Undocumented foreign nationals

7.5.1     The Committee recommends that greater effort be made to ensure that undocumented foreigners are transported to repatriation centres more regularly, or if that is not possible, they be detained separately from remand detainees until they can be taken to repatriation centres. If necessary the DCS should consult with the Department of Home Affairs to ascertain how the current system can be improved to ensure that undocumented foreigners are not unduly exposed to the trauma of incarceration and are assisted so that they can receive the necessary services as soon as possible.


7.6        Inmate labour and privileges

7.6.1     More inmates should be involved in productive activities for the greater part of the day. The Committee recognises that the legislation currently places certain limitations on the DCS as far as its ability to enforce participation in work programmes and educational programmes, and recommends that future reviews of the legislation consider these sections carefully to ensure greater productivity on the part of offenders. Increased inmate productivity will not only be of value for their rehabilitation and reduce idleness but will also assist the DCS in becoming more self-sufficient.

7.6.2     The Committee feels strongly that privileges should be well monitored and should only be granted as part of a reward system for good behaviour and possibly participation in educational and development programmes.


7.5        Social re-integration

7.5.1     Successful reintegration is vital to prevent recidivism and is dependant on a number of factors including the success of rehabilitation and care programmes, the experience an offender has in prison, the effectiveness of the parole and community corrections system and most importantly society’s willingness to accept ex-offenders upon their release. All offenders met during the visits complained of the stigma attached to having been incarcerated. Many feel that taking part in work programmes and skills development programmes is of no use, if upon their release, the fact that they had been in prison is held against them and they are unable to secure employment. More should be done to raise awareness among the general public around social reintegration efforts. Both the public and private sectors should be engaged and dissuaded from discriminating against a person who had committed a crime and had served his sentence for it. Continued stigmatisation leads to isolation and eventually recidivism thus continuing the cycle of crime.

7.5.2     Inmates should be encouraged to maintain contact with their families while incarcerated so as to ensure that they have a family support system upon their release. Such a support system is vital to preventing recidivism. The administrative bottleneck limiting visitation at Pollsmoor Correctional Centre should be addressed as a matter of urgency.

7.5.3     Offenders should be discouraged from having their bodies tattooed, especially their faces, hands and arms. Many offenders in both Malmesbury and Pollsmoor correctional centres had elaborate tattoos on areas of  their bodies that were visible and it is feared that these ‘prison tattoos’ will further hamper reintegration.


7.6        Restorative Justice

7.6.1     Despite the acknowledgement in the White Paper that restorative justice was vital to reducing and preventing recidivism, many inmates complained of very little being done by parole boards and case management committees to assist them to contact the victims or their families in order to try and restore relationships. The White Paper envisages the State as the intermediary in restorative justice efforts and victim involvement in the parole process is one possible avenue of furthering those ideals.


7.7        Treatment

7.7.1     Internal processes for maintaining discipline should never violate offenders’ human rights and should be administered fairly, consistently and within the prescripts of the correctional services legislation. It should not be administered arbitrarily and no one should receive preferential treatment. Assault by officials was unacceptable and such cases should be investigated and where necessary the appropriate action should be taken.


7.8        Children and Juvenile offenders

7.8.1     Children should be diverted or where there is no other option detained in secure care centres designed especially for them so that their specific needs can be met. While the Committee welcomes interventions put in place to reduce the number of incarcerated children, there remains a need for greater cooperation between the departments of Social Development, Justice and Constitutional Development and Correctional Services.


7.9        Integrated and co-ordinated Justice Cluster programmes

7.9.1     Far too many offenders and remand detainees are incarcerated simply because they cannot afford bail amounts or fines set by courts. Considering that it costs approximately R198 to accommodate an offender for one day, detaining people with fines or bail amounts as little as R300 who have committed petty crimes and do not pose a threat to society for any period is scarcely justifiable. The DCS should ensure that heads of prisons make use of section 63A of the Criminal Procure Act allowing them to apply to the court for the release of suspects on a warning rather than bail, or to have their bail conditions changed. The 2008 Cabinet-approved bail protocol was aimed at further promoting the use of this provision, but unfortunately it appears still to be under-utilised by heads of centres.



7.10      Facilities

7.10.1   The Committee acknowledges the considerable pressure outdated facilities place on the delivery of services to inmates as well as on security within centres. It welcomes the plans to revamp some parts of the PollsmoorCorrectional Centre, and especially the soon to be completed new generation centres referred to above. It is impossible for the DCS to replace all existing prisons with new generation ones, but everything must be done to ensure that maintenance of the existing structures is not neglected. The Committee recommends that the relationship between DCS and Department of Public Works (DPW) be strengthened so that maintenance is done speedily and that on their part, facilities are preserved.


8.         Conclusion

8.1        If anything the visits made clear that the solutions to the challenges faced by the DCS will depend on the level of cooperation between relevant departments, and particularly a well functioning integrated justice system as well as increased societal involvement. The White Paper on Corrections emphasises corrections as a societal responsibility and therefore the DCS must, through measures including strategic partnerships with the NGO sector and community-based organisations, increase its efforts to create public awareness around parole, social reintegration and the impact of stigmatisation of ex-offenders. The Committee, recognising its own responsibility in this regard will do its best to facilitate public participation in debates around correctional services-related issues.


9.         Acknowledgement

The Committee would like to express its appreciation for the co-operation of the management of the Department’s Western Cape region and specifically that of the officials at the centres visited.


Report to be considered.


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