Acting Chief Operations Commissioner (COC), Phiko Mbambo, embarked on a two-day working visit from 16 – 17 September 2021 at Leeuwkop Management Area, Gauteng Region. The purpose of the visit was to engage with Heads of Correctional Centres (HCCs) and Community Corrections in Gauteng Region on the implementation of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) as there are unique challenges on the implementation processes in regions. Thus far, the acting COC has visited Free State/Northern Cape, Eastern Cape, Western Cape and Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West (LMN) Regions.
In Gauteng Region, one of the most outstanding challenges encountered is the alarming rate of overcrowding which compromises safety, security and good order in the correctional centres, which may result in gang activities, escapes and assaults on offenders and officials. According to Statistics South Africa (Stats SA) 2021 Mid-year population estimates report, Gauteng is the most populated province in the country, contributing 15,81 million (26,3%) to the national population (60,14 million). As a result, the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) is seeing an increasing high number of inmates administered in its correctional centres across the province and thus creating a challenge of overcrowding.
Although DCS does not have control over the criminal justice system processes that lead to a decision in a form of a court order to detain a person in its centres, the Department cannot refuse to admit any person referred by the court regardless of its occupancy level. Refusal is equivalent to breaching section 165 (5) of the Constitution of South Africa, which provides that an order or decision issued by a court binds all persons and organs of state to which it applies, including DCS.
The Departmental SOPs include the Overcrowding Reduction Strategy which was adopted as a broad policy framework for management of overcrowding in the Department. The challenge of overcrowding of detention centres in DCS has been in existence for more than fifty years and it is a critical obstacle that affects the delivery of services throughout the value chain as it has significant negative implications on the ability of the Department to deliver on its core business.
Regional Commissioner: Gauteng Region, Grace Molatedi, gave a detailed overview of Gauteng Region on its implementation of SOPs, performance, offender population, challenges and proposed solutions. As at 01 September 2021, the region has an accommodation capacity of 23 632 and inmate population is at 32 308 which translates to an overcrowding of 36.71%, comprising of 13 164 remand detainees and 19 144 sentenced inmates. Molatedi also emphasized on how overcrowding is one of the challenges encountered by the region and she proposed for an equitable distribution of offenders amongst correctional centres as one of the mitigating mechanism. “The SOPs, will assist in order to instil good practices as they provide a step-to-step guidance on operational procedures in correctional centres. She further encouraged HCCs to work together and share amongst themselves creative measures on the effective implementation of SOPs.
In his address to HCCs, acting COC Mbambo raised concerns around security breaches encountered in the centres, including the unfortunate incident that occurred in Leeuwkop Management Area on 10 August 2021, whereby an official was allegedly murdered by an offender. This is one of the incidents that propelled the acting COC to conduct visits to regions to assess the implementation processes of SOPs and their progress.
He further encouraged them to use the SOPs as a guiding tool to enhance the execution of their mandated duties and utilize them to combat these security breaches and address the overcrowding challenges in the region. He also advised HCCs to devise other means to cascade the information down to their correctional officials as it is where it matters the most. “I am confident that if you make these SOPs your guiding tools in your operations, we will yield the desired results in managing and restoring order in our correctional centres, said Mbambo.