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Popcru concerned for safety of correctional officers

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The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union has placed management at the Tswelopele Correctional Centre in Kimberley under the spotlight after a gang fight among inmates apparently left 28 people injured and four prison warders having to undergo trauma counselling.

The Tswelopele Correctional Centre in Kimberley. File picture: Danie van der Lith

THE POLICE and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) has placed management at the Tswelopele Correctional Centre in Kimberley under the spotlight after a gang fight among inmates apparently left 28 people injured and four prison warders having to undergo trauma counselling.

It is believed that the incident took place in the kitchen area of the facility on January 12.

The fight reportedly erupted in a unit where 222 inmates were detained under the supervision of four prison warders.

When the fight broke out, the warders were apparently rescued by some of the inmates who locked them up in a room for their own safety.

Twenty-three inmates were apparently treated at the Tswelopele sick bay while five inmates were transferred to an external hospital for serious injuries.

The gang fight was purportedly triggered by the fatal stabbing of an inmate a few days before the brutal confrontation.

Popcru in the Northern Cape condemned the incident and called on the national commissioner of Correctional Services to intervene.

Popcru also wished its members who were affected by the incident a speedy recovery.

Popcru maintains that an attack on a correctional officer is an attack on the state, and highlighted that this is not the first incident of this nature to take place at the centre.

Popcru claimed that its members continue to be affected by such incidents due to poor management and a lack of manpower.

According to Popcru, they are still dealing with the after-effects of a similar incident that took place in 2022, when two inmates died as a result of gang fights at the centre.

Popcru said 32 prison warders are still on trial and defending themselves for using “minimum force” after coming under pressure.

The provincial secretary of Popcru, Margaret Molefe, expressed outrage over the “continuous attacks” on correctional officers and labelled it an attack on the state.

Molefe said the prison warders are overworked and understaffed, while the centre has been “turning a blind eye” to the lack of manpower and resources, which have been on the rise over the years.

Instead of improving the working conditions of the correctional officials, Popcru claimed that they get victimised, fired or shifted around whenever they raise an issue or ask questions.

According to the union, the lack of manpower and resources cuts across the Province.

“The last recruitment took place four years ago. While we are waiting for management to make a difference, the number of employees continues to drop,” said Molefe.

“Some members go on retirement, some die and some are kicked out of the system.

“Imagine four warders being in charge of 222 inmates in such a big centre. That is unacceptable and way off international standards,” added Molefe.

Popcru accused the Kimberley area commissioner of failing the warders and of using them as “scapegoats for management’s inefficiencies”.

“Correctional officers are on their own, with no protection from the Kimberley area management,” said Molefe.

“Not so long ago correctional officers were attacked at the same centre when members exercised minimum force, and the management rushed to implement consequence management.

“What makes the situation worse at Tswelopele is that the same correctional officers are being made scapegoats for all management’s inefficiencies.

“The warders are not supposed to use force when their lives are under threat and are not supposed to ask questions or raise concerns with management either.

“The Department of Correctional Services has an obligation to rehabilitate inmates who have wronged society and to re-integrate those inmates as rehabilitated members of our society.

“Correctional officers play an integral part in that rehabilitation process. When inmates attack correctional officers, they not only attack the state but also the process of assisting them in their rehabilitation.

“We call on the national commissioner of Correctional Services to decisively intervene at Tswelopele Correctional Centre to avert further incidents of this nature at the centre.

“As Popcru, we will continue fighting for safer and better conditions of employment for correctional officers.

The spokesperson for the Department of Correctional Services for the Free State and Northern Cape, Josial Ramokoena, said the reason behind the gang fight is still under investigation.

Ramokoena said they are not aware of anybody dying as a result of the January 12 incident.

“Twelve offenders were injured and we are not aware of any officials injured. Security details including staffing of correctional centres cannot be made public,” said Ramokoena.

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