Amid recent threats made by inmates of a possible hunger strike within the country’s prisons, and other acts, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has revealed its plans to enhance security in SA prisons to deal with the festive season prison rush.
On Wednesday, DCS Commissioner Makgothi Thobakgale revealed that the department will be improving its security systems to avert any potential threats ahead of the festive season.
This week, “The Star” reported that scores of Mangaung Correctional Services inmates had accused prison officials of harassing and victimising them following their memorandum decrying some of the challenges at the infamous prison facility.
Before this, there were indications that these and other inmates from other prisons would stage a hunger strike.
In light of this and other threats, the department has indicated that it has taken proactive measures, with recent raids and searches of contraband already reported in some prisons.
This week, Thobakgale addressed the official launch of the department’s National Festive Season Security Operations Plan in Durban.
“Proactive measures will be taken to prevent the smuggling of contraband and to deter any attempts at disorder,” Thobakgale said.
“We are going into the holiday season, a time of joy, a time of celebration, and a time of togetherness for many. Yet, the festive season is also a period where the country experiences unique challenges related to elevated crime and security breaches in correctional facilities,” he said.
Also, this week, “Herald Live” reported that correctional services officials and members of the public were “caught in the act” smuggling contraband into prisons, with drugs and cellphones being particularly rife at the St Albans Correctional Centre in Nelson Mandela Bay.
This resulted in what has been termed “invasive searches”, which in turn has seen visitors complain to authorities after two women visiting St Albans were forced to strip naked and endure humiliating internal searches for contraband.
Amid threats of fire and attack on prison officials, the Commissioner said the department takes the safety of its officials seriously following recent reports on attacks against officials.
“This shocking and appalling behaviour by those who try to stop law enforcement agencies from carrying out their duties will not be tolerated. An attack on law enforcement institutions is an attack on the state, and government views this in the most serious light... The safety of both correctional officials and inmates is paramount,” he said.
According to the Commissioner, overcrowding, gang activities, contraband smuggling and violence have become pervasive. These are also some of the issues contained in the memorandum signed by inmates from the Mangaung Correctional Centre, who raised these matters with “The Star”.
According to the department, this year’s festive season plan was not only about maintaining security but about fostering an environment where both inmates and staff can experience a sense of peace and stability.
Thobakgale said interventions currently being made to deal with the festive season will be a multi-faceted approach to cover all aspects of safety.
These, he said, include increased vigilance and traffic monitoring as holidays often result in an increased number of visitors to correctional facilities as families try to maintain ties during special occasions.
“Strict visitor-screening procedures will be in place to prevent the introduction of contraband and to ensure that only authorised individuals are allowed access,” he added.