Upon stepping into Pollsmoor prison one is greeted by a thick stench, penetrating through the cold corridors. Pollsmoor prison inmates and staff were at the end of piercing stares from journalist as local media joined Minister of the Department of Correctional Services, Advocate Michael Masutha on his operational visit to the Western Cape region, starting at Pollsmoor.
Masutha and media were accompanied by a fleet of Pollsmoor officials, donning their khaki green uniforms, much like the old uniforms of the Apartheid military.
During the visit, Regional Commissioner, Delikile Klaas along with Area Commissioners, Cclifford Mkesthane offered insight into their challenges due to a shortage of staff, overcrowding, gansterism, tuberculosis along with the smuggling of contraband into correctional centres.
“Part of what we want to achieve is to try and build a criminal justice system where different components talk to each other. I am going to meet with regional heads to discuss what it is they are doing to expedite the finalisation of matters which in return will result in the reduction of overcrowding,” Masutha told journalists after the walkabout.
In the Western Cape, there are about eight facilities out of forty-two that are under pressure due to overcrowding. However, Masutha believes that if the facilities are to removed remand out of the figures, there will be more or less adequate facility to accommodate inmates.
“Remand is clearly the greatest factor that influences overcrowding. If we can find ways of reducing the time that it takes to finalise criminal cases, that should translate in the reduction of remand numbers,” Masutha said.
Cells filled with prisoners from different courts from across the mothercity waited to be processed as Masutha discussed challenges with officials.
Media were taken to areas where youth prisoners are being held. As journalists’ walked along a pathway with Masutha toward the rooms where young convicted felons were being held, prisoners stuck their heads through small, barred windows to catch a glimpse of the commotion. The young felons, many of whom were tattooed from top to bottom are given an opportunity to complete their matric and even immerse themselves in social re-integration programs which include drama groups.
Speaking to some prisoners in their room, many showed a desperation to leave rehabilitated and seek a better future upon their release. Masutha echoed these sentiments as he explained that society sees prison as a place where criminals go to rot, Masutha adds that the reality is quite the contrary. Prisoners are to be rehabilitated back into society so that they become contributing members of their community.
“We are looking at the issues of education, skills and rehabilitation programs for offenders because we are not keeping them here to feed them and accommodate them. We look forward to them leaving our facilities better educated, skilled and overall better human beings in terms of their character and behaviour in order to reintegrate back into society,” Masutha continued.
Area manager, Clifford Mkhetshane says another factor hindering the safety services of the facility is the spread of HIV and TB.
“For the past three years we have deployed nurses at reception so that as the offenders are coming from court, they are screened. We also now have a Gene Expert Machine, which assists in identifying people with the TB virus. This all improves in our ability to manage the spread. It is not something we are able to control but with counsellor support as well, we are able to manage the situation,” Mkhetshane explained.
Masutha will be making these operational visits to various correctional facilities around the country in an attempt to better its services. VOC (Ra’eesah Isaacs)