Concern over increase in unnatural deaths in South African prisons

Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) expressed their concern over the steady increase of unnatural deaths in South African prisons.



The Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) on Tuesday 3 December 2019, expressed its concern over the steady influx of unnatural deaths in South African correctional facilities. 

According to eNCA, the latest statistics show numbers increased from 52 deaths in 2017 to 82 deaths in 2018 and now 103 deaths in 2019. 

What constitutes an unnatural death

JICS spokesperson Emerentia Cupido unpacked the statistics. 

“If we look at the last six months alone, we’ve had 64 unnatural deaths,” said Cupido. 

“Some of the stats are showing that the majority of these unnatural deaths have occurred because of suicides and then there are also official-on-inmate deaths occurring, as well as inmate-on-inmate deaths,” said Cupido. 

“Recent inmates, in prison as little as a week to a month are committing suicide. The reason is usually circumstances under which they were incarcerated,” she added.  

Overcrowding in prisons 

Cupido mentioned poor infrastructure as a contributing factor to the unnatural deaths. 

“Overcrowding is definitely a problem in prisons in South Africa and it leads to a myriad of other problems within the facilities.”

Cupido said that if you’re looking at a facility with bed space for 2 000 inmates but it’s housing 3 500 inmates, it would cause problems within the facilities. 

“Those inmates won have hot water, you will have overuse and repair work would become a problem,” said Cupido.  

She explained that with a large number of inmates, people will get sick and the staff won’t cope.  

Autopsies of inmates 

It was mentioned that most autopsies read ‘cause unknown’ because of the turn around time for it to be delivered, thus making it extremely difficult for families. 

Cupido explained that the figure for 2019, which stands at 103 deaths, can change as the autopsies come in, or whether an inquest into the death is done or not. 

“It takes a long time before we get that autopsy report and we cannot finalise a report until we get that autopsy report. Some of them have been outstanding for years. It’s not only that we need to finalise our reports but it’s also for the families to get closure,” she said.  

Who’s responsible for the increase in unnatural deaths? 

Cupido said that it’s a holistic problem. 

“We cannot just say that it can only be dealt with by the correctional services. If we talking about crimes being committed in our communities and the responsibility we have as citizens to report it, then we have to look at the judiciary and the NPA and our justice system.

“How quickly are these people being caught, how quickly are these crimes being processed and how quickly are those people being incarcerated. Building new prisons is not an answer, we really have to look at it from a holistic view,” added Cupido.