According to the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), many of the country’s operational prisons did not meet international standards, and prison conditions did not always meet the country’s minimum legal requirements.
Physical Conditions: In January 2016 the national commissioner for correctional services appealed to government security agencies to reduce overcrowding in the country’s correctional facilities. This followed a ruling by the High Court in December 2016 that the Pollsmoor detention facility's inmate population be reduced to 150 percent of capacity within six months. Some prisoners believed they would be taken further away from their families, and often relatives could not afford increased travel costs.
The Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) received 811 complaints of assaults on prisoners by correctional officers from April 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016. In addition to monitoring by its own employees, JICS appointed an Independent Correctional Center Visitor (ICCV) for each correctional center to monitor prison conditions. Authorities recorded and verified monthly ICCV visits in official registers kept at all correctional centers. The visitors submitted monthly reports to the inspecting judge, listing the number and duration of visits, the number of inmates interviewed, and the number and nature of inmate complaints. There were reports of shortages of prison doctors, inadequate investigation and documentation of prisoner deaths, inadequate monitoring of the prison population, high suicide rates among prisoners, and a lack of financial independence for JICS. Some detainees awaiting trial contracted HIV/AIDS through rape. Media and NGOs also reported prisoners were tortured.
According to the 2015-16 DCS annual report, the country’s correctional facilities held 159,331 prisoners in facilities designed to hold 119,134; the correctional system was 32 percent above capacity, up 3 percent from the previous year. Many prisoners had less than 13 square feet in which to eat, sleep, and spend 23 hours a day. To reduce overcrowding, the government transferred prisoners to facilities that were below capacity. JICS reported the prisoner transfer program resulted in a reduction in the number of prisons considered “critically overcrowded” (at more than 200 percent of capacity).
Prison overcrowding and poor living conditions, including lack of ventilation, contributed to the spread of disease, particularly tuberculosis.
According to its 2015-2016 annual report, DCS tested 98 percent of prisoners for HIV, dramatically improving testing over the previous year in which only 67 percent were tested. Prisons dispensed antiretroviral therapy, and 97 percent of HIV-positive prisoners received such therapy. In areas where prisons did not have medication, authorities took prisoners to local clinics to obtain it. There were no HIV screening programs on intake or discharge of prisoners, but the DCS conducted HIV prevention programs in prisons, including condom distribution, and awareness sessions throughout the country. NGOs such as the Aurum Institute, Society for Family Health, and South Africa Partners provided correctional centers with HIV testing and antiretroviral therapy. According to its 2015-2016 annual report, 21,722 inmates were placed on anti-retroviral treatment, and 199,750 inmates were voluntarily tested for HIV and informed of their status.
General health care in prisons was inadequate, and 7,574 inmates filed health-care complaints during the reporting year. Prisons provided inmates with potable water, but supplies and food were occasionally inadequate, and plumbing problems occurred, according to JICS.
The 2015-2016 DCS annual report noted prisons held 4,126 youth (individuals under age 25). Prisons sometimes held youth alongside adults, particularly in pretrial detention. Prisons generally held pretrial detainees with convicted prisoners, although in some large urban areas dedicated pretrial facilities were available.
According to the JICS report, there were 1,273 prison deaths between April 1, 2015 and March 31, 2016--511 from natural causes, including HIV/AIDS--and the remainder due to suicides, assaults, or accidents. The JICS report drew a correlation between deaths from natural causes and overcrowding, noting that less crowded conditions would likely result in a decrease of natural deaths. Inmate violence sometimes resulted in deaths.
DCS required doctors to complete and sign reports of inmate deaths to lessen the likelihood that a death caused by neglect would be reported as natural. Nevertheless, DCS failed to investigate many deaths due to an insufficient number of doctors.
Prisons provided detainees in cells with felt mattresses and blankets. Most cells had toilets and basins but often lacked chairs, adequate light, and ventilation. Food, sanitation, and medical care in detention centers were similar to those in prisons.
Prisoners with mental illness sometimes failed to receive psychiatric care.
Administration: NGOs accused DCS of moving prisoners between facilities to prevent them from reporting abuse; DCS countered that the inmates were members of rival gangs and needed to be separated.
JICS recommended DCS have an ombudsman to address juvenile confinement and improve procedures to make confinement unnecessary, but DCS had not implemented the changes by year’s end.
Prisoners are generally able to practice their faiths. In June, Muslim inmates at the Tswelopele Correctional Service in Northern Cape complained they were forced to attend Christian gatherings. The Department of Correctional Services has denied the allegations.
Corruption among prison staff remained a problem (see section 4).
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions, including visits by human rights organizations, but organizations were required to apply for permission to gain access. Organizations could also request permission to visit prisons to conduct specific research.
JICS was the primary monitoring group for prisons but was not autonomous since the DCS controlled its budget. According to JICS, during the reporting year 309 ICCVs collectively handled 456,994 cases. NGOs claimed the failure of DCS to follow up on ICCV recommendations hindered the program’s effectiveness. They also claimed many ICCVs appeared to be fully captured by DCS and lacked independence in their oversight or reporting of abuses.
Local NGO Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) criticized conditions at the Lindell Repatriation Center, the country’s largest immigrant detention facility. According to LHR, detainees were subject to physical and verbal abuse, corruption and demands for bribes, insufficient food, lack of reading and writing materials, lack of access to recreational facilities or telephones, lack of access to and poor quality of medical care, indefinite detention without judicial review, and lack of procedural safeguards such as legal guidelines governing long-term detention.