Editorial: The will to reform prisons needed

A brutally honest appraisal of some of the many ills bedevilling our seriously compromised prisons system is long overdue.

The manner in which our so-called “correctional” services are run is a contentious debate which society as a whole does not tend to concern itself with to such a great extent – except when individuals may suddenly find themselves subject to it.

After all, jails are there – in the eyes of many – to serve as punishment for its incarcerated population who are expected to pay a debt to the victims of that very society who have suffered at their hands, rather than rehabilitate. But there is absolutely no doubt that the vast majority of our prisons are dogged by a litany of living condition issues which cannot be ignored.

This is why the watchdog report by a former Constitutional Court justice who tells it like it is – and who himself has had his eyes opened by some harsh realities despite his years on a high court bench – is so refreshingly critical and should lead to its very own correctional interventions.

Like so many prisons around the globe, these are wretched hellholes for inmates – they are indeed not expected to be dispensers of comfort – but there are standards which must be upheld even for the most monstrous criminals, if we are to be regarded as a civil society and protector of human rights.

The overcrowding, extreme gang violence, preying on the vulnerable, dire shortage of beds, and the wholesale spread of contagious and potentially fatal disease which are so commonplace – and are by no means nothing new – continue to be the most disturbing part of this grim picture.

The report makes fresh and practical recommendations to address these. But vital specifics like inflexible meal times compromising the administering of ARVs for those infected with HIV are critical observations that demand measures which should be easily implemented.

So while this frank report identifies the devil in the detail, it now needs a determination and political will to remove the demons to pave the way for a fittingly functional and less infected system.

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