Prisons department “insources” control centres


The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has decided to “insource” the staffing of its national (pictured) and regional control rooms as well as similar facilities at 66 prisons around the country.

The running of the centres had previously been outsourced to Sondolo IT, a member of the Bosasa Group of companies under a R88 million contract awarded in 2005.

The deal also saw Krugersdorp-based Sondolo IT install 1850 cameras, 850 biometric readers, 600 metal detectors and 640 access control systems in the 66 prisons and control rooms it monitored.

The staffing contract expired at 6am on Friday morning (May 1). DCS personnel then replaced the Sondolo staff.   

The Democratic Alliance, relying on media reports, criticised the move at the weekend. Prisons spokesman James Selfe said the reports indicated “that the department had no contingency plans to train its own personnel to operate 72 control rooms following the expiry of Sondolo IT`s contract…” Selfe said this exposed “the rank mismanagement of the department”.  

He added that apart from the fact that this predicament has consequences for public safety, “it follows a similar pattern as the department`s dealings with Bosasa.

“The failure to have contingency plans in place to deal with the lapsing of the Sondolo IT surveillance contract may very well be deliberate. One is reminded in this context of the fact that the catering contract awarded to Bosasa was extended because no provisions had been made to put the contract out on tender, leading to its renewal administratively.  

“We trust that this situation was not engineered with the sole purpose of administratively renewing the Sondolo IT contract in the same way as Bosasa`s.”  

But it appears Sondolo IT`s staffing contract was not – and will not – be renewed.

DCS National Commissioner Xoliswa Sibeko says Sondolo IT only monitored 27% of the country`s 239 prisons. She adds that warders have been “provisionally deployed to man the control rooms in the affected … centres.”

The department is in the meantime recruiting new staff. “Over 600 vacancies for control room operators were advertised in March 2009 … and currently the department is busy with the selection process.”

Sibeko also says the control rooms and their associated IT are not the totality of the DCS` security systems. “Any advanced security equipment is as good as your personnel, and over the years thousands of correctional officials have led our efforts to improve security in all respects. 

“The department`s progressive improvement of security and reduction of escapes is testimony to our reliance on the basics of security management strategy which is underpinned by the presence of adequate, trained and appropriately equipped personnel in sensitive areas within the department`s operations”. 

Her spokesman Manelisi Wolela adds that the new recruits will be thoroughly vetted before employment and will be subject to random security checks afterwards. Selection criteria will also be tighter than for “ordinary” warders. “We are hoping to get competent personnel and start running on the job from the outset,” he says.

Wolela says the department was generally satisfied with Sondolo IT but believed “insourcing” was now a better option than outsourcing as DCS personnel were also trained to read prisoner body language and new service protocol, which helps them identify anomalous behaviour. Outsiders, he says, are not always familiar with the nuances of prison life.

Sondolo IT`s future role

Sondolo IT remains responsible for maintaining the equipment. Sondolo IT national operations coordinator Retief van der Merwe in 2007 told ITWeb the technology and control rooms created multiple layers of supervision and remote data monitoring that made difficult escapes and other illegal activity in the affected prisons.  

In addition to watching the guards and gates on CCTV streamed over the Internet, control room staff have access to the raw data the detectors and scanners collect. They can also shut down a prison remotely in the case of a riot or hostage situation and cancel kidnapped staff members’ access credentials. In addition, real-time statistics can be obtained of traffic through turnstiles.

Sondolo IT MD Trevor Mathenjwa added that the biometric system has other advantages as well, as it controls staff, visitor and contractor access. “The saving to the taxpayer is inestimable,” said Mathenjwa, adding that it had already then caught a number of contractors defrauding the department, including a cleric that claimed for time spent ministering to prisoners; claims not supported by his access records.       

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