No solution in sight for prison staff shortages

Correctional Services Department national commissioner Zacharia Modise, left, and Deputy Justice Minister Thabang Makwetla

Deputy minister tells of ‘scary’ situation at St Albans

Deputy Justice and Correctional Services Minister Thabang Makwetla described human resources shortages within his department as scary during a visit to Nelson Mandela Bay’s St Albans Prison yesterday.

Makwetla was accompanied by Eastern Cape Correctional Services regional commissioner Nkosinathi Breakfast.

They held discussions with ex-offenders and current inmates during which issues were raised around infrastructure maintenance, inmates’ exercise hours and the timing of meals.

Makwetla said most challenges were due to human resources shortages within the department.

Breakfast said St Albans was 42% overcrowded, mainly due to the number of awaiting-trial prisoners.

“There is also the issue of sentenced offenders who are not yet ready to be reintegrated,” he said.

Makwetla said the human resources shortage within the department was scary. “Stress levels are high and this is mainly due to the shortage of warm bodies. Our budgets do not suggest a solution any time soon,” he said.

He said while prison populations declined recently, they were steadily picking up again while the number of employees continued to fall.

An ex-offender and founder of the South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights, Miles Bhudu, who accompanied Makwetla on his visit along with other former offenders, thanked the deputy minister for his assistance.

“This is the kind of political leadership we need within this department. We have been waiting for 27 years to get to a point where we can sit next to a minister and say, ‘hola minister’,” he said.

Bhudu said according to the Bill of Rights, incarcerated people had a right to dignity, including adequate accommodation, adequate nutrition, medical treatment, exercise and reading material.

He said inmates should also receive education and training to assist with rehabilitation.

“Many ex-offenders remain economic prisoners due to their previous criminal records.”

Bhudu said he was released in 1991 after serving 5½ years for housebreaking with intent to steal and theft. He founded the South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights shortly before his release from prison.

Makwetla also faced media questions about claims that Nigerian pastor Timothy Omotoso – who is facing a string of sex crime charges and was denied bail last week – has been receiving preferential treatment at St Albans.

There were claims he has a guitar and a television in his single cell. “Regarding preferential treatment, I am not aware of that. All offenders should receive equal treatment and this is one of the complaints we heard today [about preferential treatment in general],” he said.

But Breakfast responded by saying no inmates were receiving special treatment, including Omotoso.

He said while some inmates did have single cells, this was as a result of police recommendations.

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