The South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (SAPOHR) has called on government to release an additional of 24 000 prisoners from facilities across the country, saying the figure of 19 000 to be released announced by the President is not sufficient enough to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

There are at least 571 positive cases of the coronavirus amongst prison officers and inmates. President Cyril Ramaphosa has announced that 19 000 inmates would be released to deal with overcrowding in prisons and give authorities a chance to control the spread of the virus. The majority of the latest number comes from the East London Maximum Security centre.

The CEO of the South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights, Miles Bhudu, says they have written an open letter to the President and hope to engage with him on the matter.

“When we checked the annual report of the documents 2018/2019 there are 162 875 the infrastructure has been built to accommodate anything between 118 000 to 120 000 warm bodies and head count. For them to bring down that total to plus minus 120 they need to add another 24 000 prisoners that need to be released including awaiting trial prisoners. We have written to the president an open letter and we hope he will take our concerns into consideration.”

The South African Sentenced and Awaiting Trial Prisoners Organisation (SASAPO) says the spread of the coronavirus in prisons across the country is getting out of control.

Meanwhile, The Department of Correctional Services says it has appointed a panel of health experts to assist in curbing the spread of the coronavirus in prisons across the country.

The department has announced on Sunday that 571 people have now tested positive for the coronavirus (COVID-19) at their correctional centres countrywide. 393 of those who have tested positive are inmates while 178 are officials.

The Eastern Cape Correctional Centre has the bulk of the positive cases, accounting for 414 confirmed cases. At least 359 inmates have tested positive in the province while 55 officials have also tested positive.

Two people have died from the virus in the province.

“It must be noted that on 5 May 2020, a total of 477 inmates were tested at East London. The first batch of results was received on 11 May 2020 confirming 103 positive cases, 78 testing negative whilst 277 results remained outstanding. DCS is now able to affirm that 178 of the 277 inmates also tested positive which illustrate the upturn in East London,” the Correctional Services Department said in a statement.

The Western Cape accounts for the second highest number of confirmed cases in the country with 134 cases; 109 being officials and 25 being inmates.

In the video below, the SABC News looks at COVID-19 testing at correctional centres: