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Prison Journalism: How gangsterism has affected the prison

Dean Mashimbwe, a Zimbabwean migrant residing in Cape Town, was incarcerated at Pollsmoor Correctional Centre from 2016 until 2017.

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Prison Image by Unsplash

Warning: This article features content which readers may find disturbing

One of the main activities happening in prisons in South Africa is gangsterism. It has affected the prison in many ways, including physical violence, overcrowding, and sexual abuse.

My personal experience

When I was in Pollsmoor, I witnessed clashes between inmates and wardens. These kinds of issues have escalated because of the existence of gangsterism in jail. Gangsterism has caused many inmates to go out and come back again to jail. This is because some inmates want to gain respect and get promoted in their gang ranks. Other inmates are victimized by being pressured to join gangs, even if they don’t want to. Non-gang members are often ill-treated and abused.

The effects of gangsterism

Gangsterism has increased the incidence of crimes in prisons. During my time in Pollsmoor, I witnessed a warden being stabbed by inmates and a non-gang member being stabbed by one of the notorious gang members. This was a way to strengthen the gang member’s rank and gain more respect since it is part of the culture of the Number Gang. The infrastructure in prison is damaged, and fellow inmates are injured or killed due to the existence of gangsterism.

How to stop gangsterism

The prison facilities have taken measures to reduce the spread of gangs. During my incarceration in Pollsmoor, the prison offered recreational facilities to minimize gangsterism. Inmates are offered jobs; for instance, I worked as a cleaner and ended up staying in a single cell, meaning I was alone without being influenced to join a gang.

Anti-gang programs were offered, where we learned about the negative aspects of being a gangster in prison or even outside of prison. We did a Restorative Justice course, which made you think twice and reflect on your life to stop the habits that led to incarceration. Motivational speakers were invited to the prison to try and use their influence to motivate inmates to stop gangsterism. On Youth Day and Mandela Day, we were given opportunities to mix and mingle with female inmates and do sports. This minimized gangsterism since inmates were kept occupied.

However, the spread of gangsterism and its effects in prison can never be fully stopped in South Africa. Somehow, the prison system promotes gangsterism by offering a room in each section where gang members can stay alone and perform their norms and values. Additionally, some prisoners keep coming back to prison and recruit new members, passing the gang culture from generation to generation.

DISCLAIMER: Submission published as received

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