Prison riot caught on cellphone in South Africa

South Africa – Justice and Correctional Services officials were on Monday scratching their heads about the identity of the person who captured on cellphone Sunday’s brawl between inmates and warders at Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre in Pretoria.

Initial reports stated the footage was taken by an inmate, but departmental spokesperson Logan Maistry refused to speculate, saying this would form part of the investigation.

“Inmates are prohibited from having cellphones. If it is an offender who took the footage, his or her privileges will be taken away and they can be summoned to appear in court. If it is an official, the culprit could face a disciplinary process or be dismissed,” he said.

The footage taken at Kgosi Mampuru – declared the country’s best correctional facility just last week by Parliament’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional service – has been doing the rounds online since the weekend.

It captured the events of Sunday during which inmates attacked warders using makeshift weapons, citing parole delays.

According to officials, the offenders were refusing to go into their cells, unhappy with how the facility was dealing with issues around parole. Other issues included poor food and overcrowding.

The warders had to use dogs electric shields and pepper spray to contain the situation. Correctional Services specialised units were called in to help quash the riot.

Maistry said: “We will continue to remain vigilant and keep up our guard. Our officials are well trained to deal with such incidents by using the required amount of force.”

He added there was no need for panic, as suggestions were that other prisons in Gauteng would also cause riots. “As far as we know this only occurred at Kgosi Mampuru,” he said. Maistry said several measures had already been implemented. “We are dealing with the (parole) backlog and it is receiving priority attention,” he said.

As part of assessing offenders serving life sentences, professional reports and recommendations on risk and rehabilitation were highly considered in this process. “Unfortunately, the combined lack of reports from social workers and psychologists, as well as outstanding restorative justice interventions, were cited to be the main reasons why submission of profiles to Parole Boards are delayed,” said Maistry.

The department had embarked on a project to fill vacancies; and about half of them were already filled. In certain circumstances, offenders were transferred to centres where services by psychologists and social workers were available.

Maistry said that in March, the national commissioner sent a circular to all correctional centres reiterating procedures to be followed when profiles for lifers were submitted.

A request was also made for task teams to be set up from centre level all the way to provincial and regional level strictly to manage the backlogs of cases for parole consideration.

“It is important to state that a number of deliberations take place when lifer profiles are discussed for possible release on parole. Numerous factors must be taken into consideration

“While it is understood that offenders have the right to raise concerns, it cannot be acceptable that they disrupt operations without any consequences. Safety and security is of paramount importance,” said Maistry.

Minister Michael Masutha said last week he would not be strong-armed by the courts to grant parole to prisoners sentenced to life.

An increasing number of lifers were turning to the courts to speed up their parole bids.

These prisoners could only be considered for parole after having served 25 years, but hundreds were challenging Masutha over delays in their parole applications. Masutha said the backlog was being addressed.

However, he stood his ground, saying litigation would not push him to make decisions that were not in the public interest.

The minister faces at least 10 court challenges from prisoners who want to serve out the rest of their life sentences at home.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union spokesperson Richard Mamabolo said they were saddened by yet another “unfortunate and predictable attack” on prison officials and felt that the conditions of employment and safety of their members were compromised on a daily basis.

“Overcrowding and understaffing of our correctional centres tend to be at the centre of altercations.

“There had not been sufficient rehabilitation programmesto ensure the core function of the department proceeds uninterrupted by gangsterism, killings and all these violent acts.

“What we have seen, reflects the seriousness of the matter. Until the department re-looks its role, we will have such challenges on a continuous basis,” he said.

Mamabolo said the department needed to reconsider its functions because as it stood, statistics spoke against it implementing its core role, which was to rehabilitate inmates. – Pretoria News

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