South African prisoners may be faced with round-the-clock monitoring with the possible installation of CCTV cameras. The proposal for the installation of surveillance in corridors and cells of prisons was presented to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services last week.
Co-founder and Project Coordinator of the University of the Western Cape’s Centre for Prison Reform, Lukas Muntingh, explained that the motivation for the installation of the CCTV cameras is based on the prevalence of violence, particularly sexual violence, within prisons.
“The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services has for years requested the Department of Correctional Services to address the issue of violence,” Muntingh affirmed.
He further noted the installation of the cameras does not raise significant privacy issues since wardens do enter cells at will. As the provision is a safety consideration, it “is a convincing argument to limit the right to privacy.”
The CCTV footage, Muntingh explained, in order to maintain respect for the dignity of prisoners, should be facilitated by same-sex staff. In addition, the Department of Correctional Services will have to ensure that recordings are not distributed or leaked.
Muntingh, however, noted that the installation of the CCTV cameras may not guarantee a decrease in violence. It may instead promote a displacement of violence, where violent incidents are more prevalent in “blind spots.”“There is very little evidence that supports the notion that the CCTV cameras will be effective in reducing prisoner violence. There is more evidence that there may be a fewer incidence of violence, but then it is more severe.”
“There is very little evidence that supports the notion that the CCTV cameras will be effective in reducing prisoner violence. There is more evidence that there may be a fewer incidence of violence, but then it is more severe.”
Sexual violence within South African prisons continues to pose a challenge for the Department’s mechanisms of rehabilitation. Younger prisoners in many instances, therefore, leave prison with more tendencies to partake in a life of crime.
The task of monitoring each prisoner, Muntingh therefore asserts, remains challenging, especially since South Africa is home to 240 prisons.
“Young men are often faced with a very stark choice between resisting and joining a gang for protection. Resisting may have very serious consequences, whilst joining a gang for protection means that their lives take a completely different course,” Muntingh asserted.
The Centre for Prison Reform has, therefore, urged the department to address the issue of sexual violence in a much more effective manner by providing dynamic security, by improving the screening process, and by educating prisoners on mechanisms of protection within the prison system.