By Siyabonga Mkhwanazi
Prisoners vulnerable to sexual assault – youths, first-time offenders, poor, gay and transgender convicts – should not be locked up with habitual prisoners and prison gangsters, MPs have told correctional services officials.
"The categorisation of high-risk inmates has a huge effect, because if you can take out the people who are young and vulnerable, the people who are gay and transgender … just that step alone would deal with a lot of the abuse that takes place," said DA MP James Selfe.
He said this should be a simple management exercise that would help the Department of Correctional Services tackle a problem that had been plaguing it for years.
MPs in the National Assembly's correctional services committee heard on Wednesday that research showed that vulnerable inmates became the sexual objects of vicious criminals and gangs operating in the country's jails.
The prisoners' rights body, Just Detention International, and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said research they had conducted over the last eight years showed that vulnerable inmates became the sexual objects of tough criminals and gangs.
While the NGOs did not have figures to show the scale of the abuse, they said many cases went unreported because victims feared being targeted by perpetrators. Selfe said if prisoners were separated into different categories, it would help reduce the number of rapes and sexual exploitation by gangs.
Committee chairman, Vincent Smith, told acting National Commissioner, Jenny Schreiner, to provide the committee with a plan on how this would be done when she returned to parliament next month to brief it on the state of security in prisons.
"(You must tell us) the things that you can do today – categorising people as they come in … and trying to find a mechanism of separating (first-time offenders) from those that we know are hardened and in any likelihood going to perpetuate this heinous crime that we are talking about," said Smith.
ANC MP, Ben Fihla, said it was clear prison gangs were "a law unto themselves".
Unlike other countries, in South Africa, once cell doors were locked, warders did not monitor for abuses at night, said Fihla.
"You separate the youth, you separate first-time offenders so that they do not learn anything from established habitual criminals," Fihla added.