Strengthening criminal justice oversight, strengthening democracy

Wits law professor and former Gauteng MEC for  Community Safety Firoz Cachalia believes South Africans should pressure their MPs to protect the rights of vulnerable groups such as prisoners (Photo: IOL)

Wits law professor and former Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Firoz Cachalia believes South Africans should pressure their MPs to protect the rights of vulnerable groups such as prisoners (Photo: IOL)

HAZEL MEDA

The Wits School of Public and Development Management and the Wits Justice Project hosted a Justice for Breakfast event on strengthening oversight bodies in the criminal justice sector held on Wednesday 5 June.

The event focused on recent legislative changes affecting the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) and the Civilian Secretariat of the South African Police Service, and on whether lessons learned from those changes could strengthen the legislation governing the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS).

Participants in the event included the Helen Suzman Foundation, Just Detention International, the Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services, IPID, the Johannesburg Bar, the National Prosecuting Authority and prisoners’ rights groups.

Three Independent Correctional Centre Visitors (ICCVs) – who work under the auspices of JICS – shared the challenges they face in trying to protect the rights of inmates. They said faced intimidation and also experienced frustration when some warders physically abused inmates with apparent impunity.

Other issues highlighted included the fact that ICCVs depend on the good will of prison officials for access to telephones to report complaints made by inmates.

Emily Keehn, a Sonke Gender Justice policy specialist whose work focuses on prisons, questioned the independence of JICS, whose budget comes from the Department of Correctional Services, the very organisation which it is mandated to oversee.

Wits law professor and former Gauteng MEC for Community Safety Firoz Cachalia facilitated the discussion, saying improving oversight of the criminal justice sector was crucial to consolidating democracy in South Africa.

Cachalia called on members of parliament to take up the issue of prisoners’ rights, in the spirit of Helen Suzman, who used to highlight abuses against specific inmates during the apartheid era.

An outcome document to capture the discussions at the roundtable will be produced and sent to stakeholders in the near future. It will also be made public.

* Hazel Meda is the journalism intern at the Wits Justice Project

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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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