Men's Health News Public Health & Health Systems Violence

Staff shortages fuelling prison violence

GBV convict talks trauma, anger,
Written by Ayanda Mkhwanazi

A shift in Johannesburg’s “Sun City” prison may stack just two warders against up to 1,400 inmates, according to a new report that argues staff shortages are fuelling prison violence.

Prison warders complain of staff shortages and face violent attacks by inmates

Prison warders complain of staff shortages and face violent attacks by inmates

Released yesterday  the report details 2010 research conducted in Johannesburg Correctional Centre, informally known as “Sun City.” Carried out by international health and human rights non-profit Just Detention International (JDI), the research interviewed groups of correctional officers in one of Johannesburg’s most overcrowded prisons.

According to the research, correctional officers said that not only did they lack the manpower to address prison violence, they often lacked the training to respond to crises or decide when to use force. The report also confirms that sexual violence in prisons remains a problem that is rarely addressed.

When crises erupt, warders reported struggling to find a way to control situations without breaking policy.

“We had a situation where prisoners locked themselves inside and we needed to get in because there were sick inmates who needed medical care, we ended up breaking down the door”, said Malesela Monare, who has been a warder at Leeuwkop Prison for 20 years.

“After we opened the gate, the prisons started assaulting us and threw stones at us,” he added. “In that situation, what are we supposed to do?”[quote float= left]“The worst case scenario is when an officer is faced with criminal charges made against him by the very offender who was acting violent…”

JDI researcher Sasha Gear said Sun City officers echoed Monare and said that they were reluctant to act against violent prisoners for fear of being disciplined by the department or criminally charged. Much of this stems from being uncertain about when the use of force is justified, Gear added.

“They don’t know what is ‘minimum’ and ‘maximum force, ’so there is huge confusion on this matter,” she told Health-e News.

Meanwhile, Sam Mbatha of the public sector employee union the Public Servants Association of South Africa says the union is dealing with an endless list of charges against correctional service employees. According to Mbatha, many of the charged officers were simply acting in the line of duty.

“There is one officer on duty (and) there are two inmates fighting one has a knife the other a broken bottle, who do you go for?” he asks. “The worst case scenario is when an officer is faced with criminal charges made against him by the very offender who was acting violent, as well as internal disciplinary action.

Gear’s research also revealed that officers often feel powerless to protect sexual violence survivors if survivors decline to press charges against perpetrators.

According to Gear, the Department of Correctional Services has to address gaps in human resources and policies that allow violence to thrive. The department must also draft clear guidelines need to be established on managing inmates in crisis including those with mental illness, who have been sexually abused or are suicidal. – Health-e News.

About the author

Ayanda Mkhwanazi

Ayanda Mkhwanazi is a senior journalist with Health-e News.