Wits Justice Team does Constitution Hill

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The Justice Project team went on a trip to Constitution Hill in Braamfontein yesterday. It was truly an eye-opening and inspirational experience. Here’s what the team had to say:


The weather was bleak when we went to visit the old prisons on Constitution Hill. And that’s how I felt when we left. So much hardship and abuse had been endured there, by criminals but also by people who were fighting for dignity and human rights. Yes, so much has been achieved and we have a free country guarded by an exemplary Constitution. But our current prisons are below the standards we have set ourselves. They have plaques, on the stairs leading down to the “black men’s cells”, quoting Nelson Mandela: ” A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones” and “It is said that no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails”. Lessons we need to remember and ideals to fight for, even today.


What shocked me the most about the Old Fort Prison at Constitution Hill was the same-ness. The conditions that were common in the 1960s and 1970s are conditions that prisoners face today: gangsterism at the shower block; food that spreads disease rather than providing nutrition to combat it; routine humiliation and abuse of prisoners; rampant sexual violence – and a sense of hopelessness. Old Fort was purely a holding cell. There was no rehabilitation here, just as rehabilitation in a 200% over-crowded facility today is a pipe dream. The Old Fort Prison was closed down in 1983 because of disease and death – it was deemed a hazard to life. How many of our prisoners must contract TB or cholera before we act as appropriately again?


About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

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