I Was Sentenced To 15 Years In Prison When My Daughter Was 3 Days Old

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Ruth Hopkins’s second piece in her four part series on women in prison. She spoke to women incarcerated in Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town and Johannesburg Correctional Centre about how they ended up in prison and how they survive behind bars. This is one of their stories. I met Uche in 2010 when I was 19 years old. He was a handsome tall Nigerian man. We started dating and I fell in love. He made me feel so good and wanted. … Read more

This Is What Life In Prison Is Really Like For Women In South Africa

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When women and crime end up in the same headline in South Africa, it usually concerns women who are victims of domestic violence and rape. But women also commit crimes and end up serving time in prison. WJP senior journalist Ruth Hopkins’ first piece in her four part series on women in prison. She spoke to women incarcerated in Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town and Johannesburg Correctional Centre about how they ended up in prison and how they survive behind bars. … Read more

25 years later: men confront person responsible for their 19 years in jail

25 years later: men confront person responsible for their 19 years in jail

In 1992 two men were jailed for 19 years for a violent crime they did not commit. This year they confronted the security policeman who had them arrested Fusi Mofokeng and Tshokolo Mokoena are standing in front of a Cash Crusaders in Bethlehem in the Free State. They’re both wearing leather jackets. Through the glass door they see Colin Packenham Robertshaw, in a bright orange and green Cash Crusaders T-shirt, interacting with customers, smiling and chatting, processing purchases. Mofokeng and … Read more

Law fails women who kill partners in self-defence

Behind bars: Many women who have killed their violent partners end up with lengthy prison sentences.

Victims of domestic and intimate partner violence such as Reeva Steenkamp and Karabo Mokoena grab headlines and trigger protests, but the women who stay alive by killing their abusive partners in self-defence are forgotten and misunderstood. The Wits Justice Project spoke to three women who claim to have killed their violent partners in self-defence. Although they arguably might have been acquitted or received noncustodial sentences, they are serving longer sentences than Oscar Pistorius, who killed Steenkamp. The waiting room in … Read more

Tortured behind bars

Re-enactment of torture methods used. Picture: AFP

In March, Kgolofelu Khoza was allegedly chained in a crouching position to a door in an isolation unit – also known as the “bomb cells” – at Johannesburg Correctional Centre. He claims he was kept there for two days and a night. “They first bound my feet with leg irons and then they slipped my hands between my legs and cuffed them, and then fixed the other end of the cuffs to the grill door,” Khoza told human rights lawyer … Read more

“Those Prisoners Had to Feel Who Was Boss. And We Made Them Feel.”

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I broke the story on a private prison in South Africa where guards inflicted horrendous abuse. But to really understand what happened, I needed to talk to the torturers themselves. “Inmates were lying everywhere,” says Sipho Kumalo, a former member of the Emergency Security Team (EST) at Mangaung prison in Bloemfontein, South Africa. “Ninjas were all over the place, shocking, kicking, .” On the inside, members of the EST – a squadron of guards in riot gear – are referred to … Read more

Lifers, Riots and Parole

At the start of this month, prison guards at Kgosi Mampuru prison in Pretoria injured inmates sentenced to life who were protesting against the delays in their parole processes. The Wits Justice Project (WJP) has seen pictures of four prisoners with head wounds and large bruises on their limbs. Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), who are representing inmates involved in the protest, claim that the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) placed nine prisoners in segregation, without observing rules and regulations … Read more

Police time and money go to pot

Weed out arrests: Demonstrators in Cape Town march for the legalisation of dagga. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

If dagga is decriminalised, R3.5-billion could be invested annually in serious crimes.  It may take some of the pressure off the clogged-up court system, an overburdened police force, severely overcrowded prisons and see more successful prosecutions for murders such as that of Karabo Mokoena. On a sweltering summer evening in downtown Johannesburg, Larry lit up a joint. The previous day, he had experienced an attempted smash-and-grab and his nerves were still frayed. Larry, who isn’t using his given name, was … Read more

A history of American lynchings

A soil collection project is commemorating the forgotten victims of lynching and helping to tell their stories. Alabama, United States – It’s a sunny day in early May, in Thorsby, a small town in rural Alabama. As we make our way down Peachtree Drive, the houses begin to give way to trailers as the dusty road turns into a dirt track. It leads to a lake, trees lining its banks. This is where John B Smith, a 73-year-old civil rights … Read more

Op-Ed: The contrition clause of parole

Photo: Water cascading over a pair of hands. (Mike R. Manzano via Flickr)

While the parole system or parole boards cannot fix a wrongful conviction, the “contrition” requirement in the parole process currently functions as a quid pro quo for release. This is disproportionately punitive towards people who still maintain their innocence. Joseph Motsepe Setshedi has vowed to rather die in prison than admit guilt for a crime he says he never committed. Setshedi was convicted in 1999 for the 1995 murder of Bigboy, the boyfriend of Ga Rankuwa resident Joyce Newpham. Newpham … Read more