Constitutional court ruling highlights issue of overcrowding in prisons

The Department of Correctional Services has noted the judgment delivered today (11 December) by the Constitutional Court upholding an appeal against a decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), which overturned the decision of the Western Cape High Court in an action for delictual damages.

The applicant, Mr. Lee, was incarcerated as a remand detainee at Pollsmoor Admission Centre from 1999 to 2004.

Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele says the judgment highlights the issue of overcrowding. “The Department of Correctional Services has noted the court ruling and is studying the judgment, which highlights the fundamental issue of overcrowding in correctional centres in South Africa. Overcrowding is not only a priority for the Department of Correctional Services, but also a priority of the Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster.

“In 2005, Cabinet approved the White Paper on Corrections in South Africa which represents the final fundamental break with a past archaic penal system and ushers in a start to our second decade of freedom where prisons become correctional centres of rehabilitation and offenders are given new hope and encouragement to adopt a lifestyle that will result in a second chance towards becoming the ideal South African citizen

“The Department of Correctional Services is a client Department, and admits offenders as per order of the court. Of the approximately 150,000 inmates in South Africa, more than 44,000 (30%) are remand detainees. Some of these remand detainees have been held in custody for more than seven years. To this end, we hosted a two-day national colloquium on 19 and 20 November 2012 to discuss overcrowding in correctional centres. More than 170 representatives, from various organisations including government and civil society, attended the colloquium to discuss overcrowding, alternative sentencing as well as remand detention management as part of solutions to South Africa’s high rate of incarceration and breaking the cycle of crime. The final report on the outcomes, and recommendations, of the colloquium is expected early next year.

“In 2006, Cabinet mandated the Department, through the JCPS cluster, to lead a project of re-engineering the management of the Awaiting-Trial Detention system in South Africa. In this regard, a White Paper on Remand Detention has been developed, and is in the final stages of consultation.

“The World Prison Brief currently places South Africa in the top ten in terms of our inmate population. South Africa has 51,8 million citizens, and our rate of imprisonment is the highest in Africa. Nigeria, the continent’s most densely populated country with 166,3 million people, has 51,560 inmates with 31 inmates for every 100,000 of its people.

“We are working hard towards action, and improvements, in our correctional system. In 2013, we are continuing discussions with the judiciary, and other stakeholders, towards finding solutions to South Africa’s high rate of incarceration and breaking the cycle of crime,” the Minister said.

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