NGO upgrades Pollsmoor Prison

Freddie Adams of the People's Assembly with DCS Area Commissioner Ntobeko Clifford and Women Taking Action founder Shirley Pualse.

Conditions at Pollsmoor Prison are now a bit better thanks to the generous efforts of a Tokai NGO.

Cape High Court Judge Vincent Saldanha declared the conditions at Pollsmoor Prison’s remand detention facility unconstitutional on December 5 last year.

In what has been hailed a historic victory for awaiting-trial prisoners, he made a court order that overcrowding at Pollsmoor must be reduced to 120 percent by Wednesday December 21.

On Friday December 23, Department of Correctional Services (DCS) Area Commissioner Ntobeko Clifford Mketshane described how Tokai-based Women Taking Action (WTA) founder Shirley Paulse stepped in and took over.

Working with Pollsmoor prisoners, she blazed a trail of renovation in Block B of the women’s correctional facility, freeing up 270 beds.

Leaking roofs, mould, peeling paint and tiles, rusty beds and blocked plumbing are some of the issues in the 53-year-old facility.

Mr Mketshane says their hands are metaphorically tied because the facility is managed by the national Department of Public Works.

His request for renovations is as endless as the tunnel of the female facility. Walking the corridor, one has to dodge broken tiles. The walls are first painted with bright murals but as you continue they become damp, with peeling paint and mouldy low ceilings. Halfway is the maternity section where pregnant women share six-bed rooms.

Towards the end of the corridor is section B5 with polished floors and smelling of fresh paint.

Earlier, Ms Paulse had handed over 10 washing machines, 540 litres of paint, a video camera and two buffer machines and had organised for the plumbing to be fixed.

On Thursday December 29, Judge Johann van der Merwe of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) visited the remand detention facility. Corridors are lined with claustrophobic cells where three-tier bunk beds leave little space for three men. Between laundry hanging on lines, some prisoners smoke, others watch television or read books, the Bible.

Larger cells are packed with bodies, some semi-naked in the sweltering heat, a partitioned toilet in a corner. Instead of housing
4 336 prisoners, Pollsmoor caters for 7 477, according to Mr Mketshane.

They have enough beds for sentenced prisoners and the problem lies in the awaiting trial section
with 3 263 people where there should be 1 690, a 201 percent excess.

Mr Mketshane said the prison is 277 percent overcrowded and they have been ordered to reduce this to 120 percent. One way of addressing this has been to redistribute sentenced prisoners to regional facilities.

Pollsmoor serves 19 courts in the greater Cape Town area. He said the problem is three-fold an aging building, shortage of staff and overcrowding.

Prisoners should receive a minimum of one-hour exercise each day but are presently allowed outside once a week. “Which is unconstitutional. They’re supposed to receive three meals a day but at present have breakfast and then lunch and supper together. We’re not complying with the law,” says Mr Mketshane.

He added that some prisoners arrive with scabies and skin problems after spending six days in police cells. “They’re supposed to get warm water to shower but they aren’t…”

Member of Parliament Freddie Adams said the police, the judicial system and correctional services should work together to speed up the process for awaiting trial prisoners. “Some cases take four to five years and some prisoners are incarcerated for petty theft and are behind bars because they cannot pay R50 bail. This costs taxpayers R4 000 each day. In Canada they have a system of sweat equity where the prisoner pays off their debt by sweeping streets, cleaning hospitals,” said Mr Adams.

Operations manager Wiseman Kanzi then showed Southern Mail unit B2. Women Taking Action were renovating this section using prison labour of trained paint-
ers, carpenters and welders used on a rotational basis. The plan is to have this section, and the neighbouring one, look as good as the female section by this week
and will free up beds for 400 prisoners.