CCTV cameras in jail cells would curb rapes and protect vulnerable inmates, say MPs, Cape Times, April 15, 2010

Members of Parliament have suggested that closed-circuit television monitors be used in prison cells to curb the rampant incidence of rape and other sexual abuses among inmates.

Although members of the National Assembly's correctional services committee noted that the proposal might invite fierce opposition from human rights groups, they said they were prepared to defend it as they believed the cameras would play a key role in protecting vulnerable inmates.

Committee chairman Vincent Smith (ANC) also lambasted acting prisons chief Jenny Schreiner over the ordeal of a woman who, while awaiting trial, was kept in a men’s cell for six months at DurbanWestville Prison, where she was repeatedly raped, sodomised, and sexually assaulted.

Smith told Schreiner the committee wanted a full report by next week detailing how Denise Wilson, who was suing the department for R100 000, had ended up in a male section of the prison in 2002.

Representatives of Just Detention International and the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation briefed MPs on sexual assaults on prisoners. MPs heard that many victims of rape and sexual violence in prison did not report such incidents to the authorities because of stigma and the fear of victimisation.

James Selfe (Democratic Alliance) said research showed that, once prisoners were locked up in their sections for the night, gangs took over and officials had no authority.

“Unless we address that problem, the balance of authority between the legitimate authority in the correctional centres and the gangs, I don’t think we can get on top of this problem,” he said.

“To what extent does the design of our correctional centres lend itself to dealing with this problem systematically? To what extent can we look inside an overcrowded facility? To what extent do we now have to start looking at surveillance cameras?

“I understand there might be human rights issues involved here, but the human rights issues also involve people who get sodomised.

“If there were surveillance facilities and effective panic buttons that were active, those steps, too, might go some way in eliminating this problem.”

Smith said CCTV cameras could play an important role in allowing officials to monitor activities in cells at night.

Schreiner said that, while there were corrupt officials who collaborated with inmates who bribed them to look the other way while fellow prisoners were raped, it was difficult to monitor the cells at night.

Once cells were locked, officials were unable to detect any wrongdoing inside.

It compounded the problem that rapes and sexual violence were rarely reported, Schreiner said.

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