Inmates in fear as Covid-19 infections, deaths in SA prisons surge


Inmates and officials are living in fear after the Correctional Services Department recorded an increasing number of Covid-19 infections of up to 388, with at least four deaths.

This comes as the government seems to be dragging its feet on its plan to release 19000 prisoners from 240 centres across the country in a bid to contain the spread of Covid-19.

SA Sentenced and Awaiting Trial Prisoners Organisation chairperson Phindile Zweni said the Covid-19 virus had spread like a veld fire in correctional centres throughout the country, especially “where it started at Wesbank in the Eastern Cape.”

Zweni said the inmate population was in a state of panic because “it’s like they (inmates) have been sentenced to death and they are just waiting to be called upon for their final day”.

Correctional Services department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said at least 235 cases had been recorded in the Eastern Cape; 54 officials and 181 inmates, 59 recoveries and two death cases.

He said the Western Cape recorded 130 cases; 103 officials and 27 inmates, 30 recoveries and two deaths. Limpopo had two cases involving officials and one recovery, Gauteng recorded 16 cases, seven officials and nine inmates with one recovery.

According to an inmate in Pollsmoor Prison, he feared that their prisons are overcrowded and Covid-19 would spread easily. Another inmate from East London urged that the government should fast-track its plans and release the number of inmates.

Nxumalo said some of the Correctional facilities are more than 100% overpopulated and, as a consequence, it would be difficult to address, manage and prevent the spread of Covid-19 within them.

“Reduction in population will therefore create an enabling environment for Correctional Services to confront Covid-19 and further scale up resources required for effective implementation of the Disaster Management Response Strategy,” Nxumalo said.

He said the process would include a comprehensive screening process for inmates including but not limited to, taking of their fingerprints and DNA samples by the police and soliciting inputs from departmental social workers and criminologists, which is a critical criteria for placement on parole.

“The victims will be afforded an opportunity to make representations during the parole consideration process.  Participation of families and communities and other stakeholders will also assist with the mitigation of risk.”