South Africa

Unions concerned over rising Covid-19 infections in SA prisons

Cape Town - Union and organisations have warned about the consequences should the Department of Correctional Service (DCS) fail to put measures in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.

DCS spokesperson Logan Maistry said more than 5400 officials and offenders have been infected with Covid-19 to date, resulting in more than 70 deaths.

Maistry said that so far the department had recorded more than 3500 officials and more than 1800 inmates who tested positive for Covid-19.

Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) spokesperson Richard Mamabolo said they had noted with concern the “dreadful, increasing number of Covid-19 infections that continued to adversely affect officers within the Criminal Justice Cluster including the DCS and the police”.

“We are, however, concerned that despite directives and guidelines given to ensure the smooth functionality of roles, some provincial commissioners and commanders at station level have been acting contrary to these directives. They have opted to put their interests before the health and well-being of officers and offenders.”

SA Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights president Golden Miles Bhudu demanded an immediate and speedy release of all the unsentenced or qualifying prisoners and a mass reduction of those that remained behind bars.

Bhudu said they also demand rolling mass action in the coming weeks advancing to next month, “when we are told the virus will be at its deadliest peak”.

Public Servants Association (PSA) spokesperson Reuben Maleka said prisons organisations used the opportunity to campaign for the release of offenders based on the opinion that prison overcrowding was contributing to the spread of the virus.

Maleka said despite being involved in extended court proceedings against the DCS regarding prison overcrowding and the official-inmate ratio, the PSA does not believe that overcrowding is the main reason for the spread of the virus in correctional centres.

He said the association was extremely concerned that inmates were released without being screened.

“This is set to fuel the infection rate in communities. In the face of soaring unemployment, which was aggravated by widespread retrenchments during the pandemic, released offenders would find it extremely difficult to find work and earn a living.”

He said once the virus is present in a correctional centre it is extremely difficult to contain it.

“The rapid spread of the virus in correctional centres is exacerbated by an irrepressible employer that is not proactive.”

He called on the DCS national commissioner to urgently implement the proposed measures and ensure that enough personal protective equipment was delivered to the country's more than 250 correctional centres.

Cape Argus

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