Two days before South Africa’s first case of Covid-19 was announced, retired Judge Edwin Cameron, as the inspecting judge of prisons, warned strongly of a “surge of institutional violence that may shock the conscience of our country” in overcrowded prisons.
Since then, President Cyril Ramaphosa has instructed the department of correctional services to suspend visits for 30 days to put in place preventive measures against the spread of the coronavirus.
The department said preventive measures would include testing at all points of entry for inmates, officials and contractors, as well as educational awareness for both inmates and officials.
There are 45,469 remand detainees and 103,661 sentenced inmates of which about 16,000 have life sentences, making for a total of 154,448 people at risk in very confined spaces.
“The plan for the department is quite extensive as it also talks to how inmates are admitted to facilities and transported to either courts or hospitals. The type of vehicles to be utilised and the use of technology, such as videoconferencing for some court appearances to limit social contact, is being prioritised,” said spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo.
The department had established a national emergency response team at head office and regional management and centre levels to ensure the execution of all mitigation interventions.
“A standard operating procedure and national mitigation plan have been developed to guide the overall response the department will employ,” said Nxumalo.
The department was using the department of health’s guidelines to set up quarantine sites for inmates waiting to be transported to facilities for treatment should they test positive.
Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services spokesperson Emerantia Cupido said that all prisons would be sanitised by a department of health team.
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