In 2009, the judges of the Constitutional Court instituted a system of prison visits which took effect from 2010. Each judge is allocated a number of prisons to visit during the year. The process entails the judge usually informing the prison of the visit, inspecting it and compiling a report. The reports are put into the public domain by being sent to –
- The Minister for Correctional Services
- The National Commissioner for Correctional Services
- The Portfolio Committee for Correctional Services
- The Inspecting Judge for Prisons.
At the end of each year, they are made available online and can be accessed through the links at the foot of this page.
The objects of the prison visits include the following:
- For judges to inform themselves about prison conditions and how prisons work. Judges ultimately guard the constitutionality of the correctional system and being well-informed is necessary to fulfil this duty.
- To help monitor and improve prison conditions. Judges cannot take over the job of the judicial inspectorate for prisons, but as the inspectorate’s report itself indicates, judges’ visits help to ensure humane conditions and efficient, clean administration. The Inspecting Judge for Prisons has welcomed the Constitutional Court’s initiative.
- To enable judges to serve where necessary and appropriate as a conduit for feedback to the inspectorate, the National Commissioner, the Minister and the Parliamentary portfolio committee.
- To enable individual prisoners to make reports and lodge complaints on the spot to the visiting judge, where appropriate confidentially, and to relay these to the SAPS, the National Director of Public Prosecutions, or to Legal Aid South Africa for action.
The empowering provisions are subsections 99(1) and (2) of the Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998. These provide that:
- A judge of the Constitutional Court, Supreme Court of Appeal or High Court, and a magistrate within his or her area of jurisdiction, may visit a prison at any time.
- A judge and a magistrate referred to in subsection (1) must be allowed access to any part of a prison and any documentary record, and may interview any prisoner and bring any matter to the attention of the Commissioner, the Minister, the National Council or the inspecting Judge.
Profile of the prison population in South Africa
At 31 March 2015, there were 243 operational correctional centres in South Africa. 236 of them are active, with joint capacity to house 120 000 inmates. In fact, 159 563 individuals are incarcerated. This means the aggregate level of over-crowding in South African prisons is 132.9%. This is lower than on the same date in 2010, when overcrowding was at 139%.
Of the total prison population, 27.1%, or 43 298, are remand detainees (awaiting-trial prisoners).
Of that same total, 155 445 are males. Of these, 113 236 are sentenced and 42 209 (27.15%) are remand detainees
There are 4 118 (2.5%) female inmates. Of these, 3 029 are sentenced. 1 089 are remand detainees – about the same proportion (26.4) as males.
The latest report of the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services provides a break-down of age categories. This indicates that juveniles (those between 18 and 20) constitute 2.81% of the inmate population (female: 92; male: 4 402). Only 0.12% (female: 3; male: 201) consists of children under 18 years.
Foreign nationals incarcerated in South African correctional facilities was at an average of 10 170 inmates. This is about 6% of the total inmate population.
Nine centres are all-female prisons. 129 are for males only. Fourteen centres are specifically directed at youth development.