The Correctional Services Department said it was reviewing its risk-adjusted strategy and has announced that visits during lockdown level 2 were being considered under certain conditions.
Department spokesperson Logan Maistry said visitations were also being considered in line with the Covid-19 protocols. “Further details on the matter would be communicated in due course.”
The chairperson of the South African Sentenced and Awaiting Trial Prisoners Organisation (Sasapo), Phindile Zweni, said while they appreciated the easing and adjustments introduced by the department’s national commissioner, they (Sasapo) were not happy with the “once a month non-contact visitations for inmates”.
Zweni said: “How is the department going to handle the influx of the family members visiting their loved ones only once a month? This is going to cause chaos in most centres, where people will be queuing and no social distancing will be able to happen.”
Zweni said they would recommend that the department at least allow four non-contact visits a month for family members. He said it had been a very long time since inmates were under lockdown and they were living in fear for their lives.
“Despite the decrease in infection-positive cases and recoveries in the country, it’s just the other way around in prisons. Positive infections cases and deaths are rising in prisons because of lack of the personal protective equipment and social distancing due to overcrowding,” Zweni said.
Maistry said Covid-19 recoveries within the department stood at 5853, translating to a recovery rate of 90.55%. Active cases were at 7.86% (508), comprising 139 inmates and 369 officials.
However, Zweni said officials were also complaining about the conditions they were exposed to, alleging that while they had submitted many of their grievances to the management, nothing has been done.
“The Justice and Correctional Services minister doesn’t want to release qualifying inmates who were sentenced to life and qualified under the Phaahla judgment, chronically ill and mothers with babies, as promised. One baby died at Johannesburg centre and all the mothers went on strike because of the conditions,” he said.
The South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights president, Golden Miles Bhudu, said they were concerned about the silence in relation to the continuation and deprivation of family/social visits of both un/sentenced prisoners.
Bhudu said the sudden and automatic prison visits during lockdown was a matter that pointed to little sympathy for those who found themselves behind bars, incarcerated and imprisoned, some for crimes they had not committed, and who still had to wonder when they would have their day in court.
“There wasn’t even an intention to inform the un/sentenced offenders and their loved ones, so that preparations could have been made,” he said.