Overcrowded SA prisons eye ‘tag and release’ programme – again


The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is considering electronically tagging some inmates to reduce the prison population, the department’s national commissioner says. “By the end of the year we will present a programme to give us a pilot on how it [electronic tagging] can be used in our conditions,” Tom Moyane told reporters in Pretoria.

He said the cost of a tagging programme could be determined only once it had been properly researched, the South African Press Association reports. At the moment, the country had 160 000 inmates, including 47 000 remand prisoners, some of whom judges were reluctant to grant bail because they had no fixed address.

The “comfortable zone” for the 241 correctional institutions was near to 110 000 inmates inmates.

Monyane said other measures were also being considered to try and reduce the country’s prison population. He said South Africa had the ninth most overcrowded prisons in the world, with an exceptionally high rate of incarceration of remand prisoners. Overcrowding had been reduced by 4.7% in the past year. The Durban-Westville and Pretoria prisons were among the most overcrowded in the country.

Monyane said discussions were taking place within the security cluster of correctional services, justice and police to address the issue of remand prisoners and the denying of bail to those charged with petty offences. “The issue of bail is highly contentious, but it is the prerogative of [the justice department]. The speed with which [remand] prisoners are sentenced needs to be speeded up.”

The department has dabbled with electronic tags for some years now. In March last year the opposition Democratic Alliance party (DA) welcomed the viability studies then being conducted by the department into satellite tracking devices which monitor probationers and parolees. The Parliamentary opposition party said at the time the process needed to be speeded up and prioritised as these devices would both enhance rehabilitation and reduce prison overcrowding.
“In response to a parliamentary question … the minister stated that the satellite tracking devices for monitoring probationers and parolees is being investigated,” DA prisons shadow minister James Selfe said in a statement. “The department now needs to stop dragging its heels on this, secure funding and put it out to tender as soon as possible,” Selfe said. “These tracking devices would provide an efficient way to ensure that offenders do not break their parole conditions. Some 15 000 offenders were re-admitted for breaking parole conditions that were not crime related in 2008/2009.”

These were not the first viability studies conducted by the prisons system. ITWeb reported in March 2008 that two studies on tracking prisoners had met with success the year before. One scheme electronically traced awaiting trial detainees in two prisons, while the second piloted electronic monitoring for parolees and prisoners under “correctional supervision”.

DCS IT deputy commissioner Jack Shilubane told Parliament three years ago that electronic monitoring could also reduce corruption in the department and the intimidation of prison officials.

He said the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research had been asked to help the department to draft a budget for the further deployment of parolee monitoring so that it can be included in National Treasury’s medium-term expenditure framework. It is not clear if this ever happened.

Shilubane said the scheme had then been in the pipeline for eight years, but has been stymied because “areas potentially covered by electronic monitoring could not match the offender population. The study ‘on the available technology at the time’ [2004] showed that electronic monitoring was only effective in 26% of urban areas and 19% of rural areas… due to reliance on electricity and telephone lines.”

The greater availability and relatively lower cost of global positioning technology and the “Global System for Mobile Communications” has, however, convinced prison authorities to have another stab at outside monitoring. He said the technology tested was “fairly accurate” and the devices ere “generally tamper-proof”.

The department was at the time also pleased with the result of an R28 million tracking project inside the Durban Westville Medium A prison and Johannesburg Medium A. The “Inmate Tracking System” (ITS) was sponsored by the Integrated Justice System Cluster of Cabinet and included a biometric identification and verification system. Prisoners have, in the past, denied their identities or assumed that of others in order to escape justice – and imprisonment.

Shilubane said ITS has proved itself to be of “great value”. He added that an evaluation committee concluded the system was sustainable. However, the personal tracking devices tested were deemed to be “non-durable” and, therefore, “inefficient”.

Monyane yesterday also said it was of great concern that the number of mentally ill, elderly, pregnant mothers and youth was increasing. Moyane said facilities needed to be upgraded to facilitate rehabilitation.

The prison boss declined to say how many corrections officials were currently suspended on full
pay, but said he was concerned at how fast the cases against errant officials were being resolved. “It is not happening at the pace that I would like it to. We need to have officials at their posts.” Suspended officials could not be replaced, and as long as they were on suspension it impacted on the efficiency of the prison system. Monyane said the department’s legal and labour relations unit had been “reinforced” to speed up dealing with suspended officials.

Referring to security, he said that an audit of institutions’ perimeters had been recently done. At many of the 241 institutions, this was found to be inadequate and the department was currently installing perimeter fencing that was of an international standard.

Monyane said he was also unhappy at the situation at the country’s two privately run prisons in Bloemfontein and Louis Trichardt. “We find it very strange that we need to get permission to gain access,” he said. Monyane said that he was not against private prisons, but “not in the form that they exist now”.