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No space for new prisoners

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MBABANE – Some facilities under His Majesty’s Correctional Services department are now overcrowded.

So serious is the situation that in some cases, each cell or bed meant for one person is being shared by three prisoners.

The department said it is now struggling to accommodate new offenders in its facilities.

The overcrowding was caused by the high number of convictions by courts in a three-month period from May to July 2012.

Between these months, Swazi courts convicted 7 573 people for various crimes. Most paid fines while others were jailed.

The department’s 12 centres have a capacity of 2 838 people but had a population of 2 901 before April.

This information is contained in an exclusive report from the department which looked into the offender population in the country.

Besides the high number of sentenced people, there was a notable increase in the numbers of people who were taken in to await the finalisation of their cases in the courts.

The department accommodated 576 of such people. These people were remanded by the courts.

They joined four who were in custody waiting for their cases to be finalised.

The four people have already spent over five years in jail.

Isaiah Ntshangase the Commissioner deplored the high number of people who engaged in criminal activities.

He said if the trends continue unchecked, the department would find itself with no space to accommodate new inmates.

He challenged society to come up with strategies that would lesson crime.

He also said the high number of people who were locked up while waiting for the courts to complete their cases was worrying.

He explained that there was a need to explore the use of alternative sentencing options in order to cater for offenders serving short sentences.

He based this suggestion on the fact that there is a high number of offenders serving short sentences.

"While noting that more remands spend less than five months, there is a need to consider expediting the remand process so as to allow speedy process of trying cases because a sizable number of offenders spend variable amounts of time as awaiting trial detainees," he added.

A further analysis of statistics compiled by the department reveals that of the 7 573 convicted offenders, 1 509 were first offenders.

convicted

They constituted 20 per cent of the total number of people convicted during the same period.

The report states that the number of new convicts was higher than all sectors of convicted people made up of first, second and third offenders.

According to the report, 573 people were convicted as second offenders and 297 as third offenders.

There were 4 838 inmates whose sentences were carried over to the months the department reported.

Despite the high conviction statistics there were little changes on the number of serving inmates.

These facilities are Bhalekane, Big Bend, Malkerns, Mankayane, Matsapha, Mawelawela, Mbabane, Nhlangano, Manzini Remand Centre and Pigg’s Peak.

The high number of convictions has resulted in places like the Bhalekane Correctional facility, which has a capacity of 250 inmates being stretched to accommodate 363 inmates with the Big bend facility which is meant to take in 350 inmates but is now home to 404 inmates.

The Matsapha Correctional facility has a capacity of 400 but now accommodates 701 inmates.

The Malkerns Correctional facility which has a capacity of 150 inmates has 189.

Commissioner Ntshangase said the department was directly taking care of a total of 5 069 people.

The interesting aspect was that there are 1 600 officers looking after over 3 000 inmates in the various correctional facilities countrywide.

This could be construed to mean that one officer looks after two inmates yet this is not the case.

"This figure is not enough because the department has various sections which comprise support staff, instructors, administration and managers.

"Besides this, the offenders have to be transported to courts and hospitals while others are being attended to by nurses in the various correctional clinics," said Luke Malindzisa the department’s spokesperson.

"The international correctional services norm is that the number of officers who look after a convicted inmate is rationed at one is to five inmates (1:5) and two officers to one offender who is not convicted," he elaborated.

 

"What happens now is that only five officers are assigned to 50 inmates. We work a three-shift system because the facility operates 24 hours. Some officers work from 6am and leave at 2pm, others from 2pm to 10pm and some from 10pm to 6am," he said.

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