1 in 25 prisoners have illegal cellphones

Inmates are seen inside a prison courtyard. Picture: Tracy Lee Stark

Just over 6500 communication devices, the majority of which were cellphones, were being confiscated from prisoners in two months alone, Correctional Services Minister Mike Masutha said.

In a response to a parliamentary question published yesterday, Masutha said 4003 devices were taken from convicted felons and 2498 from awaiting trial detainees.

An overall calculation of the prison population [conducted by The Citizen] of the approximate 159 000 imprisoned citizens, means one out of every 25 has the possibility to communicate.

It is common cause that cellphones are a hot commodity in the prison bartering system with cellphones constantly changing hands.

Masutha said between the beginning of April and the end of May, 2498 devices were confiscated from remand detainees (waiting to be tried); of these 1693 were cellphones and 792 were SIM cards.

In the same period, 4003 convicted felons were ‘robbed’ of 2430 phones and 1475 SIM cards among others by prison correctional services officials.

Masutha said the department was taking and had taken various steps to prevent and reduce unauthorised communication devices.

These included:

  • “Back-2-Basics” campaign to ensure all people and their goods were searched;
  • finding law integrity-grounded enforcement personnel;
  • searching cells when inmates were least aware and the installation of devices to notify officials of cellphone use.

“Cellphones detection systems have been installed (or are currently in the process of being installed) at 39 correctional centres; the department is also in the process of installing 14 Body Scanners at seven correctional centres to further assist officials,” said Masutha.

He said the department had also initiated a process of engagement with the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) to explore various technical and legal solutions including cellphone jamming.



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