ATC071121: Report Joint Oversight Visit to Pollsmoor prison

NCOP Security and Justice

Report of the Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Affairs on a joint oversight visit to Pollsmoor prison to consider the position of awaiting-trial prisoners, dated 21 November 2007.



1.      Aim of the visit


On 23 October 2007, the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development, Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services, and the Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Affairs undertook a joint oversight visit to the Pollsmoor Correctional Facility. The aim was to consider overcrowding in our prisons, particularly the position of awaiting-trial prisoners. Representatives from the Magistracy, the National Prosecuting Authority and the Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons were also present.


2.      Participants


The following members of the Portfolio Committees on Correctional Services, and Justice and Constitutional Development, and the Select Committee on Security and

Constitutional Affairs visited the Pollsmoor Correctional Centre:


Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services: Mr D Bloem [Chairperson], Ms LS Chikunga (ANC),Mr S Mahote (ANC),Mr E Xolo (ANC),Ms W Ngwenya (ANC), Mr J Selfe (DA) and Mr H Cupido (ACDP)


Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development: Mr G Magwanishe [Acting Chairperson], Mr J Sibanyoni (ANC),Ms M Meruti (ANC) and Ms C Johnson (ANC)


Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Affairs: Kgoshi L M Mokoena [Chairperson] – Limpopo, Ms F Nyanda (ANC) – Mpumalanga and  Mr L H Fielding (DA) – Northern Cape.


The Committees were accompanied by the following parliamentary support staff:

Ms R Lawrence (Personal Assistant to the Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services) and Ms G Dinizulu (Committee Secretary to the Select Committee on Security and Constitutional Affairs), Ms C Balie (Committee Secretary to the Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services), Ms N Skaka (Committee Assistant) and Ms C Silkstone (Researcher to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development)


Pollsmoor Correctional Facility was represented by:  Mr Mkabela (Area Commissioner),   Mr Nthombeni (Regional Commissioner: Corporate Services),   Mr Modisadife (Head: Admission Centre),   Ms Dayimani  (Head: Medium B Centre),

Mr Molefe (Head: Medium C Centre), Mr Scholtz (Acting Head: Medium A Youth Centre) and Ms Claassen (Head: Female Section)


The Department of Justice was represented by the following members of the Judiciary:   Ms M van Eeden ( Acting Senior Magistrate, Wynberg)   Mr M Dimbaza  (Chief Magistrate, Wynberg),   Mr H Swart (Acting Chief Magistrate,Cape Town) and Mr Zantsi  (Senior Public Prosecutor, Athlone)


The Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons was represented by: Ms Pritima Osman (Acting Director: Functional Services),   Mr T Titus (Visitor’s Committee Co-ordinator)


3.      Overview of proceedings


The Department of Correctional Services gave a short briefing to the Committees on the Pollsmoor Management Area, which was followed by extensive discussion. MPs then spoke with a number of awaiting-trial prisoners, especially pregnant women, juveniles and children.


4.      Briefing on the Pollsmoor Management Area


4.1             Pollsmoor is overcrowded. The present occupancy rate is 168%.While Pollsmoor is designed to accommodate 4 252 offenders, at present the facility accommodates 7 296 offenders in total. Of these, 4 823 (66.8%) are awaiting-trial prisoners. At the Female Centre, which MPs visited, there are 397 offenders, of which 47% are awaiting trial. The occupancy rate is 162%.


The Department provided the Committees with the breakdown in the table below of awaiting-trial prisoners, who had either not been granted bail or had been granted bail but could not afford to pay. Sentenced juvenile offenders as well as awaiting-trial juveniles (18-21) are housed in the Medium A section.





Admission Centre

Medium A


No bail

2 531



Less than R 1000




Above R 1000





The Department also provided the information, which is set out in the table below, on the number of successful conversions to correctional supervision in terms of sections 62 (f), 71 and 72 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 from 1 March 2007 – 30 September 2007. Section 62(f) of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977 empowers the court to release an accused on bail under the supervision of a probation officer or a correctional official.Section 71 of the Criminal Procedure Act provides that awaiting-trial juveniles may be placed in a place of safety or under supervision, instead of release on bail or detention in custody, while section 72 refers to release of an accused on warning.





Medium A










48 (69.5%)


47 (79.7%)





32 (42.7%)


14 (48.3%)





32 (66.7%)


19 (82.6%)





38 (79.2%)


12 (80%)





43 (100%)


28 (63.6%)


8 (100%)



21 (20.2%)


48 (53.3%)


2 (40%)



56 (58.3%)




10 (71.4%)


4.3       Interventions to address overcrowding at Pollsmoor include:


·             The appointment of four additional court officials (now a total of seven) to assist with the reduced bail applications and alternative placements for awaiting-trial prisoners.

·             A list of section 62(f) and 63 applications is submitted weekly by the court officials to the various courts.

·             Heads of centres attend monthly case-flow meetings to address the management of overcrowding.

·             A list of awaiting-trail children is provided to various courts and at case flow meetings on a monthly basis.

·             The names of awaiting-trial children are given to the Department of Social Development each Friday.

·             There is constant interaction between the in-house social workers and the Department of Social Development for available bed space at places of safety.


1.      Issues Arising


5.1             Applications in terms of section 62(f) of the Criminal Procedure Act


In response to queries about the granting of applications to place an accused under the supervision of a correctional or probation officer in terms of section 62 (f) of the Criminal Procedure Act of 1977, representatives from the Magistracy expressed doubt that the Department of Correctional Services has sufficient capacity to monitor those released in terms of this section. It was said that magistrates are unable to simply release persons awaiting-trial without the assurance that there are arrangements in place to ensure that they will return to court. MPs also heard that a common concern is that the majority of juveniles are being held for ‘aggressive’ offences. Their parents do not always want them at home for reasons that include being unable to guarantee that they will be able to bring their children to court on the appointed dates. There are also not enough places of safety and secure care facilities.


5.2             Conditions of Bail


Pollsmoor officials explained that there were many awaiting-trial prisoners who could not afford bail, even if it was below R1000, as shown in the Table in paragraph 3.2. above. However, they could not provide the Committees with a breakdown of the bail amounts under R1000, nor could they tell the Committees precise details of the alleged crimes committed.


It emerged that the factors involved in granting bail are complex: bail is intended to ensure that an accused returns to court on the appointed date, and is meant to take into account the affordability of the accused. Where the bail amount is small, it does not necessarily mean that the offence is not serious. Magistrates also take into account the seriousness of the offence, the strength of the case against the accused and the personal circumstances of the accused. The number of previous convictions is also taken into account.


Amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act were designed to make it more difficult to get bail: Schedules 5 and 6 to the Act state that bail may not be granted for the offences listed in these Schedules, unless there are exceptional circumstances.


5.3             Lack of information on the committal warrant


Awaiting-trial prisoners are not assessed when first brought to Pollsmoor. The committal warrants that accompany awaiting-trial prisoners do not provide sufficient details of the crime for which the accused is being detained. Typically, the committal warrant will simply state in broad terms the crime for which the accused is being held.


This makes it difficult for prison officials to establish whether a particular awaiting-trial prisoner’s case should be brought to the attention of the authorities. The lack of information means that awaiting-trial prisoners can spend unnecessary time in prison. Prison officials need access to the court file in order to properly understand why an awaiting-trial prisoner is being held.


5.4             Legal facilities available to awaiting trial detainees


Correctional Services officials said that there are facilities available to awaiting-trial prisoners to meet with their legal representatives. The Committees were informed that the Legal Aid Board visits the facility on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Officials from the Department of Justice have also visited to explain plea bargaining.


However, through further engagement with the officials, MPs established that the Legal Aid Board does not always visit the facility and that consultations between attorneys and their clients tend to take place at court. The representative from the Office of the Inspecting Judge was of the view that if the Legal Aid Board visited the facility more regularly there would be far more applications for reduction of bail. The Legal Aid Board, however, has a shortage of available practitioners, which impacts on its ability to conduct prison visits.


It was also alleged that awaiting-trial prisoners, who are children or juveniles, are often not given a chance to contact their parents when first arriving at Pollsmoor.


5.5             Co-operation and liaison between Departments of Correctional Services and Justice and Constitutional Development.


The Committees heard that there are inter-sectoral structures in place to streamline or facilitate the processing of awaiting-trial prisoners. These structures meet monthly. The Committees heard that awaiting-trial prisoners are considered to be a priority for magistrates, and that magistrates are well versed on issues such as juveniles in custody and the granting of bail of relatively small amounts.


5.6             Visits from Magistrates


While magistrates used to visit offenders in prisons, this is no longer common practice. With the creation of the Office of the Inspecting Judge, magistrates no longer feel that this is part of their function, and only visit when invited.


5.7             Caseload Backlogs


Although there are systems in place, the enormous in-flow of cases creates backlogs. The Committees were informed that the Department of Justice has once again, from September, instituted backlog courts to reduce this problem.


5.8             Interventions to reduce the number of Children Awaiting Trial at Pollsmoor


There are interventions to reduce the number of awaiting-trial children in Pollsmoor. Every month a list of names is provided to courts and to the case flow meetings. Every Friday, Pollsmoor provides the Department of Social Development with a list of sentenced and awaiting-trial children. Pollsmoor is also provided with information on the number of places available at places of safety and at secure care facilities. There is constant networking taking place between the in-house Social Workers regarding diversion, as well as available bed-space at places of safety. This has seen a reduction in the number of male children incarcerated from the end of August 2007 from 195 to 140 in late October 2007.


6.         Committees’ Recommendations


6.1   In different forms, several of the observations and recommendations in this section have been made before. They are not particularly novel or exceptional and can even be seen as predictable. The difference however is in the current approach of the Committees. We are determined to follow up on these recommendations and actively monitor progress in regard to them. We are acutely aware of the challenges the relevant departments and other role-players face, but we believe that incremental improvements are possible and certainly necessary – and it is these modest, incremental improvements that our Committees are seeking to pursue. We are also aware of our own limitations, with our “over-loaded” programmes and inadequate research, technical and other support, and so we would not be too ambitious in setting our own oversight targets. We need to be strategic and selective in our oversight targets. In this respect, our main aim is to see incremental improvements in the position of awaiting-trial prisoners in Pollsmoor and put appropriate pressure, consistent with our oversight role, on the relevant departments and other role-players for incremental improvements in the position of awaiting trial prisoners in other correctional facilities. The Correctional Services Portfolio Committee will, of course, focus more on the general conditions at correctional facilities and further advance its oversight role in this regard. However, our two Committees will work closer together to follow through on the recommendations set out below. This will mean working both jointly and, in a complementary way, in our own respective portfolios to monitor progress in respect of the recommendations. We might also work with other relevant portfolio and select committees to follow through on the recommendations below.


6.2   As part of the monitoring process, this report will be referred to the Departments of Justice and Constitutional Development and Correctional Services for an initial written response within two months of the date of its adoption. The aim of the response would be to provide information to the Committees, convey the initial views of the departments on the recommendations below, and set the basis for the briefing referred to in 5.3 below. The report will also be referred to the Pollsmoor management and other relevant stakeholders.


6.3   The Committees will also convene a joint meeting of the relevant Departments, the Pollsmoor management and other stakeholders within six months to monitor progress in regard to the issues raised in this report and take matters further.


6.4   While the Committees appreciate the challenges, we feel that for awaiting-trial offenders to constitute 66.8% of the Pollsmoor offender population is altogether unacceptable. The Committees require a more comprehensive explanation than we got during our visit on why this is the case and what is being done to improve the situation, even if gradually over time. The Committees are keen to get a better sense of how Pollsmoor fares compared to other correctional facilities.


6.5   The Pollsmoor officials explained their approach to dealing with the high number of awaiting-trial prisoners, especially children. However, the Committees are not clear that this approach is being implemented effectively – and will engage further on this at the briefing referred to in 5.3 above. The Committees welcome the reduction in the number of male children incarcerated, from 195 to 140, between the end of August and late October this year.


6.6   The Committees are concerned about the number of awaiting-trial prisoners who are being detained in prison simply because they are unable to meet bail, especially when the bail is below R1000. It is not cost-effective to accommodate awaiting-trial prisoners where the bail amounts are small. The Committees note that the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development’s 2006/07 Annual Report refers to section 63(A) of the Criminal Procedure Act that allows for the release of awaiting trial prisoners, who have been granted bail, but are unable to pay the bail. The Committees note that the Department of Correctional Services was requested by the Criminal Justice System Review Project to prioritise the release of such prisoners, and to submit a report by end of May 2007, indicating progress. The Committees are interested in what progress there has been in this regard.


6.7   Prison should be for The Committees feel that the judiciary should, where possible, make use of alternative sentencing so as to ensure that those who have committed petty offences are not sent to the already overcrowded prisons. Prison should be for serious offenders.


6.8   The Committees are concerned that Legal Aid Board practitioners do not regularly visit Pollsmoor, except when they are informed that an accused does not have legal representation. More immediate access to a legal representative will result in more applications for reduction of bail, and a decrease in the number of awaiting-trial prisoners. However, the Committees are aware that there was no representative from the Legal Aid Board present during the oversight visit. The Committees are also aware of the capacity constraints that face the Legal Aid Board. The Committees will refer this report to the Legal Aid Board and request a report, within two months, on the Board’s visits to Pollsmoor and other correctional facilities and the challenges it faces in this regard.


6.9   The Committees feel that when an awaiting-trial prisoner is committed to a correctional facility, adequate information of the crime, in respect of which the accused has been charged, has to be contained in the accompanying documentation. This information is usually contained in the case docket or court file. If the information is made available, stakeholders will be better able to ensure that awaiting-trial prisoners do not spend unnecessary time in prison. The Committees request the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development to report on the feasibility of providing the Department of Correctional Services with such information.


6.10          The Committees feels that, within their constraints, magistrates should seek to visit correctional facilities, particularly in respect of awaiting-trial prisoners. The Committees are keen to understand what the difficulties are in regard to this and how they might be addressed. The Committees will also raise this with the Magistrates Commission. and also confer with the Judicial Inspectorate of Prison.


6.11          While it is clear that there are structures in place that provide for intersectoral engagement, it is not clear to what extent these structures are effective. The Committees will engage on this further at the briefing referred to in 6.3 above.


6.12          The Committees feel that there should be greater collaboration between all role players around ensuring better conditions for and the speedy sentencing of awaiting trial detainees – co-operation between the Departments of Justice, Social Development, Safety and Security and Correctional Services should be ongoing.


6.13          The Committees note that while sentenced children and juveniles take part in education, sport and developmental programmes in Pollsmoor, awaiting-trial children and juveniles are not allowed to take part. This is apparently because the latter category “fall under justice, not correctional services”. The Committees are clear that this “silo” approach is not acceptable and inconsistent with the notion of an integrated justice system, and feel that all children and juveniles, both those sentenced and those awaiting-trial, should be allowed to take part in the above-mentioned programmes. Some of the awaiting-trial juveniles have been awaiting trial for long periods, some as long as three years.


6.14          The Committees note the interventions to address overcrowding in Pollsmoor. There is obviously a need for more places of safety as children and juveniles released from prison cannot always go back to their homes; sometimes there are not even contact details of the families of those released, especially if their families are in rural areas or provinces other than the Western Cape. The Committees note that the Department of Social Development also serves on the intersectoral task team, referred to in 6.11 above, and are interested to receive more information on the availability of places of safety. The matter will also be raised with the Social Development Portfolio Committee and, if necessary, the Department of Social Development will also be asked to attend the briefing referred to in 6.3 above.


6.15          The Committees welcome the use of “backlog courts” and are interested in progress in this regard.


6.16          The Committees agree that more should be done to ensure that pregnant women, who have committed petty crimes, are not detained in prison but are diverted to community corrections or to other appropriate intervention programmes.


6.17          The Committees will follow through on the recommendations set out above and are keen to see progress in regard to them. We do not believe that we should simply carry out oversight visits and write reports for the sake of doing so; there have to be material outcomes. The responsibility for this does not reside solely with the executive. Parliament also has a major responsibility - and, consistent with our oversight role, we commit ourselves to working with the relevant departments and other stakeholders to achieve progress in regard to the above recommendations.


7.         Acknowledgements


The Committees express their appreciation to the Department of Correctional Services, the Pollsmoor management and other stakeholders for their co-operation in ensuring that the study visit was productive. The Committees acknowledge the assistance of Ms Christine Silkstone of the Parliamentary Research and Information Unit in the preparation of this report.


Report to be considered.




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