Report highlights prison warders’ shocking work conditions

On any given day, a single prison official can find himself up against 100 to 350 inmates.

Poor working conditions, long hours and fearing for one’s life are normal for prison officials.

These conditions are highlighted in a report released by Just Detention International (JDI) South Africa today after it conducted research in a Johannesburg correctional facility.

“On a daily basis, when you put on a uniform you don’t know whether you will be going back home or if you will be taken to the hospital,” one officer told the researchers. The report reveals that: ý Between four and 14 warders supervise 1 200 to 1 400 prisoners on any given day;

  1. At night there is a stark absence of staff;
  2.  Officers on night duty often work two 18-hour shifts back to back; and
  3.  During the weekend, only half of the officers are on duty.

Last week, 10 prison warders were the victims of a suspected gang-related attack at Drakenstein prison, in the Western Cape.

The Department of Justice and Correctional Services reported in its 2013-14 annual report that 682 of its 41 825 staff members were injured on duty in that year.

Officers told of attacks like hot porridge thrown at a warder and another who was hit with a padlock when opening a cell door.

One warder saw an inmate stab one of his colleagues to death.

“Staff may be targets of gang ritual attacks, where senior gang members are required to stab an officer as part of establishing or enacting their seniority,” officers said.

At night, officers have to do their jobs without tools such as torches for patrol, radios to communicate and support staff on standby.

The report related an incident when a fire broke out in a cell at night when an official was on duty alone. He was unable to help in time and one inmate died.

One warder said: “There is this violence that nobody notices – the psychological [damage] that has been done by the system, the department, to their own officials.”

The Department of Justice and Correctional Services did not respond to questions sent to it.

-Aarti J Narsee

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