Alarm bells ring over jail escapes

PRISON authorities have voiced concern over the high number of escapes after 15 inmates managed to break out of Fort Beaufort prison on Christmas Day. Of the group, only one inmate remains at large.

He is Sive Mtunyelwa, of Alice, who was awaiting trial for robbery and rape and is described as dangerous.

Regional Correctional Services commissioner Nkosinathi Breakfast said his department was concerned about the increase in escapes.

After five inmates escaped last year, the number increased to 22 around the province this year.

Breakfast said the 15 who escaped on Christmas Day broke through the roof of the Fort Beaufort prison.

There were 22 detainees in the cell and the escape was noticed during the early hours of that day.

Four were rearrested almost immediately, while two of the fugitives were handed back to authorities by concerned family members.

Eight others were tracked down and taken into custody in the days that followed.

Mtunyelwa, who is due back in court on Monday, remains on the run.

Breakfast said police and a Correctional Services emergency support team were working around the clock to ensure Mtunyelwa was caught.

The other inmates involved face charges including murder, rape, robbery and assault.

Breakfast said the latest escape was being investigated to determine the circumstances surrounding the breakout.

There were four prison warders on duty on Christmas Day.

Breakfast said four dangerous prisoners escaped from the Barkly East correctional facility earlier this year and three from the Queenstown prison.

Three of the Barkly East fugitives were shot dead following a confrontation with police more than four months ago.

Breakfast said his department was understaffed, while provincial prisons were overcrowded, resulting in increased chances of prisoners escaping.

“Some of these escapes are as a result of weaknesses beyond our members’ control,” he said.

SA Correctional Services Workers’ Union president Toney Plaatjies condemned the escape in Fort Beaufort.

Plaatjies said the union had heard that one of the warders on duty was looking after more than 200 inmates.

He said of the four, one was working as an administrator, another was working at the main gate while one was at the access control to the prison.

“One was looking after those inmates, believed to be more than 200 at the time.

“This is very embarrassing,” Plaatjies said.

Prison escapes were prevalent in the province, he said.

“We are experiencing this crisis in the Eastern Cape because of the shift system we’ve been complaining about.

“Eastern Cape warders work 12-hour shifts for three days in a row and that is a strain on members.

“Other provinces are not operating with this system, hence you won’t hear of escapes,” Plaatjies said and accused Breakfast of failing the province.

Breakfast refused to comment on Plaatjies’ claims.

He said he would not respond to concerns from a union that was not recognised by the department. – Asanda Nini and Bongani Fuzile

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