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History of Transformation of the Correctional System in SA

Introduction This chapter aims to provide a brief overview of the history of the Department and the change in the direction of the correctional system during the past century. 2The early 1900's The early part of the last century saw the prison system regulated mainly by various Provincial Ordinances.

The British occupation of the Transvaal and Orange Free State Republics in 1900 led to a major reorganisation of the penal systems in these provinces.

This early period will probably be remembered most for an already inflated inmate population, mainly due to transgressions of the pass laws, and the fact that mining companies used prison labour at very low rates.

2.2.2 The Prisons and Reformatories Act, Act 13 of 1911, introduced shortly after Unionisation in 1910, saw the prison system also becoming responsible for the management of reformatories.Courts started playing an increasing role in the development of prison law, inter alia, with findings that it was unlawful to detain awaiting-trial offenders in solitary confinement and the ruling that offenders who felt they had been unfairly treated in prison had the legal right to approach courts of law for recourse.

2.2.3 This period also saw the introduction of a system that allowed for the remission of part of a prison sentence subject to good behaviour on the part of the inmates and the system of probation that allowed for the early release of inmates, either directly into the community or through an interim period in a work colony or similar institution.
There was much talk of rehabilitation but very little actually materialised. Punishment for transgressions within correctional centres was harsh and it included whippings, solitary confinement, dietary punishment and additional labour.

Racial segregation within correctional centres was prescribed by legislation and it was vigorously enforced throughout the country.

2.3 The 1945 Landsdowne Commission on Penal and Prison Reform

2.3.1 Developments during 1945 held much promise.The Landsdowne Commission on Penal and Prison Reform found that the Prisons and Reformatories Act of 1911 had not introduced a new era in South African prisons but that it had in fact been a vehicle for maintaining the previous harsh and inequitable prison system that preceded it.This Commission:
  • held the view that offenders should not be hired out to outsiders;
  • asked for an increase in the emphasis on rehabilitation and the need to extend literacy amongst offenders, in particular black offenders; and was critical of the Government's decision to reorganize the prison service on full military lines, which was seen to be an attempt to increase the control it had over prison officials. It warned that such a militarised system would not be conducive to "the various rehabilitative influences which modern views deem essential".

    2.3.2 Sadly nothing much came of the Landsdowne Commission Report presented in 1947, as illustrated by subsequent permission for "bona fide farmers associations" to build prison farm outstations to facilitate the extended use of prison labour by farmers.

    2.4 Prisons in the 1960's and 1970's

    2.4.1 Brand new prison legislation in the form of the Prison's Act (Act 8 of 1959) was introduced. This new Act:
  • reflected little transformation of the prison system;
  • continued and even extended racial segregation within prisons in line with the national policy of "differential development" signalled in by Apartheid;
  • abandoned the "nine pennies a day" prison labour scheme and replaced it with a system of parole;
  • entrenched the military character of the prisons management, and made provision for commissioned and non-commissioned officers;
  • closed the prison system off from inspection by outsiders by prohibiting reporting and publishing of photographs. This served to entrench a relatively closed institutional culture within the prison service, which resulted in a tendency for the norms of prison law to be relatively remote from daily practice; and
  • did not give essence to the internationally accepted meaning of the word parole since it still required of paroled prisoners to enter into employment agreements with employers (mainly farmers) at ridiculously low remuneration or else to remain in prison.

    Although the new legislation took cognisance of the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners as far as the emphasis on rehabilitation was concerned, it ignored other crucial aspects, such as the prohibition of corporal punishment for prison offences.