By Wyndham Hartley

Shocked MPs have demanded a plan of action on prison rapes and “marriages” following a report from a civil society organisation that nothing had been done in recent years to address the sexual violation of inmates.

Members of Parliament’s correctional services committee were reacting to a report from the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. The centre’s Sasha Gear told them yesterday that it had been difficult to get the Department of Correctional Services to give the matter the attention it deserved.

African National Congress chairman of the committee Vincent Smith told the department’s acting commissioner, Jennifer Schreiner, he wanted answers about what was going to be done to rid SA’s prisons of these serious crimes when she returned to the committee next month.

He said if there were human rights objections to increased surveillance of prisoners after lock-down and increased categorisation of prisoners to separate the young first offenders from the hardened criminals who were guilty of the rapes, the committee was prepared to fight for these measures to be used.

Democratic Alliance MP James Selfe said rape in prisons was a universal problem but insisted that it could be stopped relatively easily with management procedures such as categorising prisoners and increased surveillance.

Gear said a recent survey showed that 58% of assaults were not even reported to prison authorities. She said there was a lack of basic training for prisons officials and “while members with the best of intentions are hindered by lack of skills and clear policy to deal with sexual violence, others are themselves involved directly in the sex trade of inmates and or taking bribes in order to turn a blind eye to abuses and not act on reports”.

In Business Day.