Call for Inmates To Be Released After COVID-19 Outbreak in Eastern Cape Prisons

In an open letter sent to the President of the Republic of South Africa, the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, and other governmental and correctional bodies, the Detention Justice Forum (DJF) listed their recommendations of precautionary measures to be implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic and public health crisis to protect the health and safety of people in detention. 

The Detention Justice Forum (DJF), is a civil society coalition of non-governmental organisations and individuals working to ensure that the rights and the well-being of those who are detained are respected and upheld, as enshrined under the South African Constitution, laws, and regional and international human rights norms and standards.

They listed their concerns about the devastating effect the spread of COVID-19 may have on people in places of detention, due to overcrowding and that many South African detainees may have compromised immune systems because of tuberculosis (TB), HIV/AIDS or other chronic and non-communicable illnesses.

The DJF recommended  that the South African Government urgently adopt and implement the following:

1. Conduct urgent and regular screening and tests, prioritising those with
symptoms, as well as conduct risk assessments to identify those most at risk
within the detained populations, taking account of all particularly vulnerable
2. Reduce prison populations and other detention populations such as police
cells, to improve hygiene and enhance the possibility of social distancing particularly
in overcrowded centres, by implementing schemes of early, provisional or
temporary release for detainees held for minor and non-violent offences, or are
left with a year or less of their sentence.
Special consideration should be given to: elderly inmates,  pregnant women or women with young children living with them in detention, children, those who test negative for COVID-19 and exhibit no symptoms and those with pre-existing health conditions that make them vulnerable to infection.

The full letter can be read here; Letter of Recommendation

The letter was signed off by DJF Coordinators, Zia Wasserman – Sonker Gender Justice, Kristen Petersen – African Criminal Justice Reform, and Doreen Gaura of Just Detention International – South Africa with  “In light of the magnitude of the current global public health crisis, we ask that you adhere to the guidance for states provided by the UN SPT in full or, at minimum, you urgently adopt the recommendations above and implement measures to ensure the safety of all those detained, living and working in detention facilities. We urge the government to adopt a “do no harm” approach and ensure that the “equivalence of care” principle (as stated in the Nelson Mandela Rules) is upheld.”