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G4S Refutes Prison Violation Claims

G4S, a minority shareholder in Bloemfontein Correctional Contracts (BCC), which is contracted to manage Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC) on behalf of the Department of Correctional Services (DCS), has refuted claims that the prison is poorly run and that at one point, the lives of inmates were in danger following several violations.

In a written response to questions submitted by the Free State Weekly, G4S said its sister company, BCC investigated the allegations after they were raised by the DCS and most of them were found to be untrue while a few operational issues were attended to.

“G4S would like to place on record that whilst the report is entitled ‘MCC Preliminary Investigation Findings’, it is in fact a list of alleged contractual breaches which were put to BCC which BCC subsequently investigated,” said the company.

Last week, this newspaper ran a story based on the report and sought comment from G4S but the company failed to meet the deadline. The story only carried comment from the DCS who indicated they may seek mediation as they remained at loggerheads with G4S on several issues contained in the report.

The DCS investigation started in 2013 and the report was completed in 2014 but it was never publicised, prompting the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) to approach the South Gauteng High Court to press for its release.

The DCS did not contest the CALS court application but the BCC opposed it. CALS eventually won the court battle and the report was eventually released a few weeks ago.

The long-awaited official report into conditions at the Mangaung Correctional Centre states among other disturbing findings, that inmates were assaulted by staff, forcibly injected with medication, and locked in a cell without a toilet, lighting, windows, or ventilation.

The investigation focused on major areas, namely: security, health, nutrition and staff.

G4S said after the DCS came up with the list of allegations, BCC undertook a thorough investigation and responded in detail, providing extensive evidence to support its position.

It noted that evidence was however not included in the documents published by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (‘CALS’) adding, this could lead to calls for the evidence to be published.

“Whilst the BCC investigation recommended to DCS that a number of operational improvements could be made at MCC, no evidence was found to substantiate any claims of mistreatment of prisoners such as (those) described in the allegations.

“Therefore, media reports which suggest that the mistreatment of prisoners occurred at MCC are misleading – they are merely quoting from a list of allegations put to BCC, not the findings of the investigation which concluded that such mistreatment did not occur,” said G4S in its response.

Among some of the violations listed in the report: an inmate is said to have sustained injuries “as a result of being assaulted by officials.” The report says management did not follow the required processes that would allow for force by officials.

But the BCC is quoted in the report saying there were no visible injuries and that the company had received approval for the use of force by the controller (a member of staff appointed by DCS) and expected this to be correctly reported to the Inspecting Judge. The BCC proposed more direct reporting procedures to shorten the process.

Another incident listed in the report relates to a cell without a “toilet, lighting, windows, or ventilation” which DCS calls a “dark room” in which inmates were held and one person died. The report says that while the room had been approved by the department, it was not supposed to be used in such a way.

The BCC denies there was a dark room but speaks of a “quiet room” which the company says had lights and ventilation but had not been used since 2008. It says the death was a suicide by the inmate.

The use of taser guns and rubber bullets without proper procedure and training was also investigated and the DCS details incidents of violence between inmates, improper segregation of a prisoner and one alleged hostage situation. Prison management is found to have failed to “take the necessary steps to ensure a safe environment.

The BCC disputes the findings.

It’s also stated in the report that healthcare staff “forcibly injected inmates with antipsychotic medication” in 2010 and subsequent years.

To the contrary, the contractor said, it did not believe there was use of force as evidence suggests this was not the case. The company however said in the report that it was unable to respond meaningfully to the allegations because they did not have the documents or information such as patient records and pharmacy profile reports used by the DCS in the investigation.

The DCS said additional documentation was presented to the company.

Other healthcare-related allegations include failure to keep records, falsification of records, oversupply and overdose of medications, and delayed issuing of medicines. In response, BCC says further training and improved processes will be undertaken.

There are also reports of the appointment of untrained staff and unsuitable meal plans and eating utensils for inmates.

G4S however went further in its written response that it is happy the Minister of Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, has asked the newly appointed inspecting judge of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS), Judge Edwin Cameron, to review all claims and evidence related to this matter, and prepare a formal response. 

It said it welcomes this review as it believes it will support the findings of BCC that no mistreatment of prisoners has occurred at MCC and further support the views of a number of inspecting authorities which have praised MCC for its care, support and development of prisoners.

“The MCC is an exceptionally well run maximum security prison that is subject to daily, monthly and annual oversight by the DCS and the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services. Furthermore, DCS controllers are part of the permanent internal management of the prison and provide ongoing oversight, monitoring and approval for BCC’s management of the facility,” said G4S.

The company indicated judges from the Constitutional Court of South Africa inspected the prison in June 2018 and published a positive report highlighting the cleanliness of the facility and praising the availability of vocational training and education, access to work and to activities such as sport and gospel singing. 

In addition, the Human Rights Commission ‘National Preventive Mechanism’ committee, under the chairmanship of the Human Rights Commissioner, Chris Nissen, visited MCC on  September 7, 2019 and were also impressed. 

“During the visit, the commissioner took the opportunity to discuss the treatment of prisoners, medical services and the quality of the facilities directly with several inmates. Following the visit, the commissioner recognised MCC as a centre of excellence in ensuring the human dignity of prisoners,” said the contractor.

G4S added it is committed to the respect and protection of the human rights of those in its care and has a zero tolerance policy towards the mistreatment of prisoners.

By: Martin Makoni