In a nutshell
Regular monitoring and reporting acts as a preventative measure against human rights abuses in prisons, including ill treatment and torture. The One Judge One Jail campaign motivates for judges, magistrates and Members of Parliament to conduct annual holistic and consistent prison inspections. This campaign is led by the Detention Justice Forum in partnership with Sonke Gender Justice, NICRO and Africa Criminal Justice Reform.
What we do
South African prisons are fraught with conditions that lead to human rights abuses and high rates of sexual violence, HIV transmission and TB infection. The One Judge One Jail campaign was born of the recognition that prison oversight is vital to the protection of inmates’ human rights. In order for prison oversight to be effective, it must be independent and accessible, and should include a number of different functions, including: robust inspection and monitoring, investigation, and reporting.
The Campaign was inspired by the Constitutional Court Prison Visits Programme, which was instituted in 2009 by the judges of the Constitutional Court and took effect from 2010. The Constitutional Court has since developed a commendable programme for prison visits and reporting that has the potential to increase transparency in places of detention, and could be replicated by other courts. This Programme has demonstrated that oversight can provide for the accountability of the executive and administrative branch of government to both the legislature and the public.
How we do it
The aims of the One Judge One Jail campaign are:
· to encourage all judges to undertake one prison visit per year and to report on their visits to the Office of the Chief Justice (OCJ);
· to strengthen the working relationship between the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) and the judiciary so as to ensure that inspections are comprehensive, and address areas identified by JICS as being problematic;
· to encourage civil society involvement in highlighting priority concerns at prisons; and
· to strengthen civil society’s role in monitoring prisons and publicising findings.
The importance of judicial visits to prisons has been recognised by the National Operating Committee (NOC) for the OCJ, which took a resolution on 11 April 2015 to “remind the Judiciary of its duty in terms of section 99 of the Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998 to conduct prison visits to monitor the conditions of correctional centres.”
It was with this resolution in mind that the Detention Justice Forum developed the One Judge One Jail guide, in the hope that it will provide useful context and guidelines for any person mandated to conduct such prison visits.
What we have learned
Case Study: The Constitutional Court Prison Visits Programme
Currently, JICS and DCS do not report on judicial correctional centre visits, although they do refer to individual visits in their annual reports. However, in 2009, the judges of the Constitutional Court instituted a system of correctional centre visits which took effect from 2010. The Constitutional Court has since developed a commendable programme for prison visits and reporting that has the potential to increase transparency in places of detention, and could be replicated by other courts. The Constitutional Court Prison Visits programme is coordinated by Judge Edwin Cameron. Each year he establishes a schedule of correctional centre visits for the Justices of the Constitutional Court. Judicial officers who undertake correctional centre visits compile reports on their visits, which are sent to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, the National Commissioner for Correctional Services, the Portfolio Committee for Justice and Correctional Services and the Inspecting Judge of JICS. The reports together with responses from the Minister or heads of correctional centres are then published on the Constitutional Court’s website, which is easily accessible to the public. In 2015, a report on one of the judges’ visits to Pollsmoor Remand Detention Facility was helpful in corroborating the evidence provided by detainees at the facility showing that the conditions were extremely overcrowded and inhumane. This allowed Sonke Gender Justice and Lawyers for Human Rights to successfully challenge these conditions, resulting in a dramatic reduction in overcrowding levels at the facility. A visit to another prison ensured the resumption of provision of ARVs to inmates who had, until then, been unable to access their essential medication, in violation of their constitutional rights to health care and medical services in prison.
*This project profile was compiled by Ariane Nevin who works as a National Prisons Specialist at Sonke Gender Justice.