Give the JICS more power to investigate prison deaths

NGOs have called for the strengthening of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services. (Photo: Independent Newspapers)

NGOs have called for the strengthening of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services. (Photo: Independent Newspapers)

(published in The Saturday Star, 26 January 2013).

HAZEL MEDA 

FOLLOWING THE recent deaths of inmates at Groenpunt prison in the Free State and St Alban’s prison in the Eastern Cape, civil society organisations – including the Wits Justice Project and the Centre for Applied Legal Studies – have criticised the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) for failing in its constitutional obligation to guarantee the safety of inmates.

The Detention Justice Forum (DJF) decried what it called the “general culture of impunity” prevalent in the DCS. In a press statement issued on Tuesday, the coalition of non-governmental organisations and community-based organisations highlighted problems such as infrequent and inadequate sanctions against warders involved in assaults and deaths of prisoners.

South Africa’s constitution guarantees the right to life and the freedom and security of the person to all citizens, including prisoners. “The use of excessive force is prohibited by the Correctional Services Act,” the DJF said.

According to DJF, the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) has reported on a number of prisoner deaths involving correctional services staff through 2010 and 2011, but no officials have been criminally prosecuted for these deaths.

The DJF also criticised the South African Police Service for failing to investigate the prison deaths adequately, and the National Prosecuting Authority for its apparent unwillingness to prosecute the officials implicated.

The civil society organisations called for an overhaul of the investigative process used in cases of prisoner assaults or deaths.

One key proposal is that the NPA should report to Parliament annually, explaining why it has declined to prosecute cases of prison assault and death.

Another proposal is the strengthening of JICS, which currently has limited powers to investigate allegations and can only make recommendations to the Minister of Correctional Services.

The DJF said JICS should be given the mandate to investigate DCS officials implicated in deaths and assaults.

“JICS’s governing legislation should be reviewed to enhance its structural independence from DCS. It must be administratively and financially separate from DCS,” said Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, co-ordinator of the Wits Justice Project.

She further explained that “the process to appoint the Inspecting Judge should be reviewed to enable stakeholder consultation and a more rigorous vetting. The Minister of Correctional Services should be removed from the process”.

 Hazel Meda is a member of the Wits Justice Project, which investigates miscarriages of justice.

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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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