All inmates want this Christmas is their loved ones’ presence
Prison authorities warn that inmates forgotten by their families pose a risk to themselves while in the clink
Prison bosses have urged people to visit their loved ones behind bars in an effort to curb suicide attempts over the Christmas period.
Part of a larger campaign to clean up correctional facilities, ward off escapes and ultimately prevent suicides in the cells, the Department of Correctional Services’ Operation Vala is in full swing.
“The period between December and January is generally a time which inmates are desperate to escape for various reasons,” department spokesperson Thulani Mdluli said.
“This could be in an effort to participate in criminal activities or simply to be with family or friends. It is for this reason that special emphasis is placed on security measures in correctional centres, with increased visibility, and involvement, of managers at all levels in the operational activities,” he added.
But over and above keeping prisoners where they are supposed to be this festive season, officials are keeping a keen eye on their emotional state.
“One of the challenges facing correctional services is low levels of inmate visitations by families,” Mdluli said.
“When people don’t visit the inmates it reduces their emotional and psychological outlook, which is critical for effective rehabilitation and social reintegration.
“In numerous instances, incarceration diminishes contact with close relatives and undermines the family connections that could aid in restoration. Similarly, maintaining community, and family connections, can help offenders understand the harm they’ve done and prepare them for reintegration into society.”
The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS), an oversight body for the country’s detention centres, found that in 2017/18, suicide was the largest cause of unnatural deaths among inmates.
SA’s 243 prisons are largely overcrowded and under-resourced, accommodating nearly 160,000 inmates as of December 13.
Of those, 117,594 are sentenced prisoners serving time while 41,524 are awaiting trial or have yet to be sentenced.
The JICS, in releasing its annual report in October, emphasised that the situation of mentally ill inmates had become urgent.
There are 1‚200 inmates with mental illnesses. According to the JICS the majority of these inmates are kept with the general inmate population without adequately trained mental-care staff.
This had led to a high suicide rate among this fragile section of the prison populace.