ConCourt judge’s damning report on Pollsmoor

Justice Edwin Cameron has recently published a report on his visit to Pollsmoor Prison in April. He said he was “deeply shocked” by the “extent of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, sickness, emaciated physical appearance of detainees”, and that the “overall deplorable living conditions were profoundly disturbing”.

The inspection was part of the “prison visits and monitoring programme” of the Constitutional Court. Some of his findings include:

  • Abominable conditions in the awaiting trial section of the prison. The visited cells were “filthy and cramped” due to severe overcrowding – at 300 percent, it is the highest rate of overcrowding in the country.
  • Systemic problems with plumbing caused blocked drains – which meant a bucket had to be used to flush the toilet – and some inmates had to use a sink to bathe and urinate in.
  • Detainees were sleeping three to a bed or on the floor, and bed sheets and blankets were either missing or filthy and lice-infested.

“Some detainees displayed rashes, boils, wounds and sores to us,” wrote the judge, who was accompanied by his clerks and 15 officials from the Department of Correctional Services.

The Detention Justice Forum (DJF) released a statement applauding Justice Cameron for undertaking this in-depth inspection of Pollsmoor Remand Detention and Women’s Correctional Centre, and producing a detailed and direct report of the conditions.

DJF promised to monitor the implementation of the recommendations: “The Forum commits itself to using this report to hold the Department of Correctional Services accountable to the plan of action detailed therein”. It then makes a call to all South Africans to respond to the dire conditions:

The members of the Detention Justice Forum would like to register their deepest condemnation of the state of affairs described in the report, and call on all South Africans of good conscience, especially those working in the branches of the justice system, to ensure such human rights violations are stopped.

The DJF consists of civil society organisations concerned with detainees’ rights.  It was established in March 2012 with the explicit aim to ensure that the rights and well-being of those who are detained are respected and upheld, as enshrined under the South African Constitution, laws, and international human rights norms and standards. Read full statement here.

Read Ruth Hopkins’ – WJP senior journalist –piece on Justice Cameron report, as it was published in The Star and the Cape Argus front page.

Justice Johan Froneman and Johann Van Der Westhuizen had also visited Pollsmoor Prison in 2010 and 2012, respectively. Both judges criticized the facility for not doing enough to deal with overcrowding in the awaiting trial sections. Links of full report are included below.

Watch the video below of the living conditions at the Pollsmor Prison:

Related readings:

Ruth Hopkins

Ruth is an award-winning investigative reporter who writes about human rights and criminal justice issues. Her latest book, Misery Merchants, Life and Death in a Private South African Prison was published in February 2020. Learn more about Ruth.