Editorials 6.3.2014 07:00 am

Our jails are a mess

Honeymoon murder accused Shrien Dewani, who has so far tried in vain to use all forms of excuses not to face justice in South Africa, would have been very pleased to read an article in one of the newspapers yesterday.

In the report published in The Star, a hardened criminal and a gangster serving time in jail brazenly threatened to attack paralympian Oscar Pistorius if he were convicted and sent to jail for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. This thug, calling himself “The General”, has been in prison for the past 33 years and is the leader of the feared 26s prison gang. Using a prison call box, this jailbird promised Pistorius hell, saying his wealth would not buy him a lavish prison lifestyle – instead he would “be taken out”.

The prisoner went on to warn that if those with money continued to be given preferential treatment, more injuries and even deaths would occur. This is the same prisoner who stabbed Chris Hani’s killers at the Kgosi Mampuru Prison in Pretoria a few days ago.

“Anyone who thinks they can come here and live like a king, will have a hit on their head. If he thinks he is going to come here and buy his way to get computers and cellphones and a lavish lifestyle, he must know that will never happen for as long as I am around,” the hooligan warned.

You will recall a key argument in Dewani’s resistance to extradition was that his life would be in danger, and his human rights would be impinged due to the conditions in SA prisons. His legal team argued that our prisons are rife with gang violence, sexual abuse and disease.

Yesterday’s article will surely not escape his lawyers’ attention and will be music to their ears.

While the bandit who called the journalist might have a sinister, self-serving agenda up his sleeve, his threats again point to the rot within our jails. The threats highlight how prison officials are failing in eradicating corruption perpetrated by greedy officials who take bribes from rich inmates in exchange for all sorts of luxuries prisoners are not permitted to access.

So rife is bribery of prison officials that other inmates who do not come from wealthy backgrounds, like the ruffian who called the reporter, have decided to take the law into their hands.

This is yet another embarrassment for the Department of Correctional Services, who a few weeks ago had egg all their faces following Waterkloof Two saga that saw the parole of Christoff Becker and Frikkie du Preez revoked after a video of the pair having a party in prison emerged.

According to the department’s own statistics, in the 2012/13 financial year, a total of 251 correctional services officials were dismissed and demoted for a variety of transgressions.

While tough action is commendable, this high number of dismissals in itself is indicative of the crisis within the department.

Correctional Services’ top brass can bury their heads in the sand and insist they are clamping down malfeasance within their own ranks, however the simple truth is the problem has reached such alarming proportions it will require extra ordinary measures to defeat.

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