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Prisoners contemplate hunger strike over denied education opportunities and human rights concerns

by Luqmaan Rawat
Prisoners are ready to go on a hunger strike if their issues aren’t resolved Photo Pexels

South Africa – South African prisoners are considering a hunger strike following allegations of human rights violations. The catalyst is a recent Supreme Court of Appeal decision stating that the Department of Correctional Services’ existing policy hinders prisoners’ right to pursue education.

Prisoners continue to be denied access to laptops in their cells, among other unresolved issues. They feel that these concerns are consistently being overlooked. In a judgement on November 8, the court determined that the current policy hindered Mbalenhle Ntuli from effectively pursuing his preferred field of study, computer studies with a focus on data processing. Education forms part of the rehabilitation process and the current policy hinders inmates from furthering their education, said Richard Mamabolo, Police and Prions Civil Rights Union (Popcru) spokesperson.

“Education is one of the key parts that ensures there is rehabilitation. As a union we do encourage that. Inmates should register to study. With regards to the gentleman (Mbalenhle Ntuli) we do agree with him. There also needs to be measures to ensure that such gadgets are not used to commit criminal activities. We are hopeful through the review process, there should be mechanisms to ensure laptops are allowed for those who are studying.”


Securing laptops for prisoners and ensuring they are used properly

Concerns exist that prisoners might misuse these laptops for illicit activities. To address this, potential solutions include restricting laptops to student prisoners, implementing IP address blocks, and Mamabolo is optimistic that the review will be favourable due to the existence of these control measures.

“We are hopeful with the review of this policy by the Department of Correctional Services, which is expected to be concluded within the next ten months which should be taken into considerations, from which we believe they will ensure these laptops are only used for their purposes. We currently have challenges around inmates who have cellphones in the correctional facilities, which is illegal, but that is one source of internet that could be used. That needs to be looked into.”

Mamabolo also wants the Department of Correctional Services to look into their communication policy and possibly change it to ensure it’s easier for them to communicate with the ones they love.


Reoffending Rates

According to Mamabolo, South Africa has a reoffending of 85%. This means 85% of people tend to wind up back in jail and this, Mamabolo believes is because they don’t have any skills or sufficient skills when they leave prison.

“They have not learnt anything from the correctional facilities. One of the major problems that we have been discussing with the Department of Correctional Services is overcrowding and understaffing. Just a month ago we had a fire incident in Limpopo. There was a loss of 3 500 beds meaning all these inmates then had to be redistributed to other facilities that are already overburdened. This hinders the prospects of rehabilitation. That is the immediate challenge we are looking into. The long term prospect is to reach some sort of agreement to ensure correctional facilities become self-sufficient and that includes education.”

Mamabolo wants to ensure prisoners make their own food among other things. This will ensure, that even if they don’t want study, they will leave prison with some self help skills.

“It’s not only about studying but also ensuring that other skills are also available to the inmates. We believe that when an inmate finishes their incarceration time, they should be in a position to have the skills to be employed and they can actually become employers themselves on the outside. It’s a multifaceted approach that we are looking at which we believe could yield positive results.”


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