Correctional Services Deputy Minister Phathekile Holomisa says inmates should be treated with dignity. He was speaking at the official opening of a state-of-the-art correctional centre at Ngqamakhwe in the Eastern Cape.

The newly-upgraded centre previously housed inmates with two-year sentences and below due to its condition. It now houses inmates who have been sentenced up to 15 years.

The newly-built Ngqamakhwe correctional centre prides itself with a huge kitchen, ablution facilities and bigger cells. Previously, inmates with heavy sentences would be transferred to other correctional facilities in neighbouring towns such as East London and Mthatha. Holomisa says decent correctional centres seek to ensure inmates are well rehabilitated.

“It’s important that we have facilities such as this one as the Department of Correctional Services in order for us to be able to fulfill the mandate given to us by the Constitution and the laws which require that people, once they have been sentenced by the courts to spend time in our correctional centres, are kept in a safe and secure place so that they may not escape or someone come from outside and attack them for whatever they have done to them and their families. But importantly to treat them as human beings, to respect their dignity as required by human rights and the law.”

Community members have welcomed the move. However, traditional leader Chief Siyabulela Sobekwa is concerned about the rising crime rate in the area.

“Crime is very high here.  We also want the government to build a police station here. We have very few police officers here and vehicles are also few. We are also not satisfied with the way offenders are released. In our time, when an offender was to be released, a traditional leader was informed and he would inform the family of the victims and that of the offender.  But it’s not the case these days.”

Mayor of Mnquma local municipality Sithembiso Ncetezo says they have crime awareness programs in the area.

“Crime and criminal elements are rising in our communities but we have to embark on awareness campaigns, working together with our traditional leaders in making sure that we are building humanity amongst our people. In as much as we are in that top 30 in our country, that means we are in crisis, hence we are building these programs of awareness campaigns. Hence I’m saying we are having the program of gender-based violence campaign on the 20th. We’re trying to call all stakeholders to come together in addressing these problems that we are facing.”

The Correctional Services Department will be opening other correctional centres across the country. This is part of its effort to reduce overcrowding in jails and to enable effective rehabilitation of inmates.