Justice for Breakfast: A look at remand in Southern Africa

The Wits Justice Project- in association with the Crime, Policing and Criminal Justice Programme at Wits P&DM– held its first Justice for Breakfast Roundtable event of 2014. The Roundtable discussion focused on remand detention in Southern Africa.

Emelia Siwingwa,  key speaker at the Roundtable

Emelia Siwingwa, key speaker at the Roundtable

Those in attendance included representatives from Legal Aid South Africa, South African Development Community Lawyers Association, Department of Correctional Services (DCS), and The Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS), Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS), Department of Justice and Constitutional Development and other interested stakeholders.

Robyn Leslie, researcher for WJP, got the ball rolling with a look at the statistics of remand detention across Southern Africa, mentioning 2013 research in Zambia that stated 1 out of every 3 prisoners was a remand detainee. Studies in Malawi showed evidence that a total of 8000 people (mainly young men) are remanded every year.

Emelia Siwingwa from SADC Lawyers Association was the key speaker of the roundtable. She spoke about SADC’s Minimum Guidelines for the Treatment and Management of Detainees. The guidelines look into justice delivery systems and explore ways to avoid pre-trial detention as much as possible. Overcrowding in prisons compromises the health and safety of inmates, infringing on their dignity and human rights. Looking at sanitation and hygiene, the guidelines say there should be a working toilet for at least every 25 inmates in a cell, every toilet or toilet block should be installed with a tap for washing.

Emelia went on to say that every detainee should be provided with nutritional food of wholesome quality, well prepared and served for health and strength.  She spoke of the importance of fresh drinking water of a sufficient quantity being made available in the cells and that where water is stored, it should be stored in clean and suitable containers by giving an example of a prison that SADC Lawyers Association visited where drinking water was in a borehole next to a pit latrine, and the inmates were given chlorine to make it “drinkable”.

Matters prioritized for discussion at this meeting included overcrowding in correctional centres, alternative sentencing, restorative justice, and remand detention management. Other points included:

  • The overcrowding and poor conditions of pre-trial detention facilities in Africa (so poor as to often be life-threatening).
  • Remand detainees often remain in custody for lengthy periods without having been convicted of any offence.
  • The vulnerability of pre-trial detainees to torture and other ill-treatment.
  • The large number of awaiting trial detainees contributes to over-crowding, which in turn has negative consequences to resources allocation in the prison system and the experiences of detainees in detention.
  • The need for Paralegals to be better streamlined with the legal profession, and given more scope to work with.
  • Separating of prisoners, male from female, petty theft criminals from serious offenders.
Bricks Mokolo and Jacob Sebidi take part in roundtable discussion

Bricks Mokolo and Jacob Sebidi take part in roundtable discussion

The roundtable identified a need for community paralegals to be deployed to smaller communities, where there is a shortage of trained lawyers. Seeing as they have the skills and training to provide basic legal services, as well as a good knowledge of the day-to-day functioning of the justice system, they  can help make a difference for many caught up in the criminal justice system. Often, physical access and financial access are barriers when it comes to accessing legal advice. Paralegals can fill this gap.

The Roundtable discussed the need to ensure that the rights and well-being of detainees are respected and upheld; this goes hand in hand with the behavioral change of the detainees and the correctional facilities staff members, in terms of understanding what a culture of human rights expects of them.

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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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