Mother in prison.

Photo: Adobe Stock

Prison infection rates climbing as calls for release of mothers grow

There have been eight deaths from within the prison system, and calls for mothers with children behind bars to be released are growing.


Mother in prison.

Photo: Adobe Stock

South Africa’s prisons are fast becoming a fertile breeding ground for COVID-19 infections, and eight inmates have already died from the virus in facilities in the Western and Eastern Cape. 

There are also growing calls for mothers with babies behind bars to be released on house arrest to protect themselves from contracting the virus. 

Release of mothers behind bars ‘on a case by case basis’ 

Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said that five of the deaths were inmates in Western Cape prisons, while three were incarcerated in the Eastern Cape. 

Chairperson of the South African Sentenced and Awaiting Trial Prisoners Organisation Phindile Zweni said that with growing concern over the safety of infants in correctional facilities growing, it would be unwise to release them into the care of potentially abusive families or foster care environments, and therefore their mothers should be permitted to see out their sentences under house arrest. 

“Lawfully under the Correctional Services Act, mothers can keep their babies up until the age of three years. Thereafter they have to release their babies to family or foster care,” he said.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic escalating in our country it would be very harmful and these babies would be most exposed to abusive families or foster care. The only option is their mothers should be placed under house arrest with immediate effect,” he said.

President of he South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights, Golden Miles Bhudu, supported the calls for the mother’s release.

“These women took the law into their own hands and murdered the abusive husbands, fiancées or boyfriends, or got a hit man to do the job each and every case must be judged on its merit”.

Nxumalo said on Tuesday 9 June that the department was looking into the suggestion’s viability, but insisted that should it be deemed an acceptable solution, each mother would be considered on a case by case basis. 

“It obviously must be considered what offences the woman has committed, we cannot simply put violent offenders who pose a risk to society back on the streets,” he said. 

Prison cases rising 

Meanwhile, there are currently 1128 cases of COVID-19 in the country’s prison system, with 461 officials and 667 inmates infected

A total of 312 people have recovered from the virus behind bars. 

In May, correctional services sanctioned the release of some 19 000 inmates who were deemed non-violent. They were released on parole in order to better equip correctional services to manage the rapid rate of spread in prisons, with those released constituting around 7% of the total prison population.