A roundup of criminal justice news in South Africa and the United States


Airmail via Drones Is Vexing for Prisons

A drone was used to smuggle contraband into Lee Correctional Institute, in Bishopville, South Carolina, the New York Times reported.

“Drones flying over prison walls may not be the chief concern of corrections officials. But they say that some would-be smugglers are experimenting with the technique as an alternative to established methods like paying off officers, hiding contraband in incoming laundry and throwing packages disguised as rocks over fences into recreational yards …

In January, guards found a drone with blue and red flashing lights on the ground inside a recreational yard at a prison in Bennettsville, S.C., according to investigative reports. On that drone were 55 grams of synthetic marijuana and a cellphone charger, the reports said.”

Brutality… just another day on the job

According to City Press, if you spend time in a police cell anywhere in the country – but especially in the Western Cape – you will probably be tortured, assaulted, raped, or even killed.

IPID records detailing deaths, rapes, assaults and tortures that took place in police custody between 2004 and 2014, obtained through a City Press PAIA request, indicated more than 17 000 cases reported nationwide.

“The records revealed that, of the 17 694 cases reported to Ipid, just more than one in five (3 644) were laid against police in the Western Cape. Gauteng police came in second, with 2 848 complaints against them, followed by officers in the Free State, with just more than 2 125 cases.”

Restraint of Pregnant Inmates Is Said to Persist in New York Despite Ban

Tina Tinen was doing a year for selling drugs, and had arrived in prison halfway through her pregnancy. On her due date in November 2011, she went into labor so rapidly that guards called for an ambulance to take her to the hospital from the women’s prison in Bedford Hills.

“Earth-stopping pain,” she said. “The ambulance arrived. I was handcuffed to the gurney.”

At the hospital, she said, she remained cuffed to the gurney as the contractions accelerated. “It was about one minute apart, just blinding pain,” she said. “I remember the clock on the wall of the room. I would see the minute hand, the second hand, and the hand would barely go around the clock and I would be screaming: ‘No! No! No!’ ”

Restraint of pregnant inmates is persistent although in 2009 the State Legislature passed a bill – signed into law by Gov. David A. Paterson – banning the shackling of pregnant women just before, during or after childbirth.

In a survey conducted by Correctional Association of New York (CA) since the ban became law, 23 of 27 pregnant women interviewed reported being restrained at least once in violation of the Anti-Shackling Law. The report was issued in February.

One of the women recounted her experience to CA:

“My ankles were shackled during the whole trip to the hospital when I was in labor. They pushed me in a wheelchair from the van to the hospital and at one point the wheelchair almost tipped over. I would not have been able to catch myself very well. . . . I was shackled until I got to the delivery room, but even then they kept one of my ankles shackled to the bed. [They] only took it off when it was time to start pushing. . . . I couldn’t rotate the way I needed to and I had to sit in one spot the whole time I was in labor. The baby was pushing and I was going through contractions and I wanted to lie on my side but I couldn’t because I couldn’t move my leg.” (p. 137)

Mental illness alarming in [South African] prisons

According to Police and Prison Civil Rights Union (Popcru), prison warders are unable to differentiate between a naturally violent inmate and a mentally ill inmate due to lack of training.

“In February, 3 755 inmates were recorded as being mentally ill out of a population of almost 150 000. Twenty one inmates committed suicide in 2013/14, according to the Correctional Service Department’s 2013/14 annual report, an increase from 13 in the previous financial year.” DCS acknowledged that the mental health needs of awaiting trial detainees – which constitute some 28% of the prison population – are unknown.

[In the United States] Most Prisoners Are Mentally Ill

More than half of inmates in jails and state prisons have a mental illness of some sort, according to an Urban Institute report, with depression the most common problem followed by bipolar disorder.

The numbers are even starker when analysed by gender: 55 percent of male inmates in state prisons are mentally ill, compared to 73 percent of female inmates.

“An increasingly popular program might help thin the ranks of these sick, untreated inmates. What are known as “mental-health courts” have sprung up in a number of states as an alternative to incarceration. A shoplifter who has, say, schizophrenia might be screened and found eligible for mental-health court, and then be sentenced to judicially supervised treatment. These types of courts have expanded rapidly since 2000, and there are now hundreds around the country.”


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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