The Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) is to launch a full investigation into increasing violence, drugs and dangerous weapons in South Africa’s prisons.

The inspectorate says the recent incident at the St. Albans Maximum Security Prison in Port Elizabeth in Eastern Cape Province where three inmates died and several were injured during a violent brawl with warders is just the tip of the iceberg.

In an unusual mmedia briefing held in the middle of the current festive season, it says another incident at Malmesbury prison outside Cape Town underlines the gravity of the problem. Close to 2,000 kilogrammes of dagga (cabnnabis) were confiscated there. The dagga had been smuggled over the security fence into prison grounds, allegedly by gangs.

Gang-related activities inside prisons are also on the rise. Over-population and under-staffing exacerbate the problem. For instance, Pollmoor correctional centre is currently accommodating 7,477 inmates when it is meant only to accommodate 4,336.

The cells at the facility were built for a maximum of 20 prisoners. However, at any given time more than 60 inmates are crammed into the confined space.

“The JICS has previously reported and indicated the unsatisfactory situation where during the holiday period, our correctional facilities are not adequately staffed. This exacerbates the constant complaint of under-staffing in our over-populated facilities. An immediate solution must be sought where our prisons are run as a 24 hour institutions providing both security and care at all times,” says Johann van der Westhuizen, Chairperson of Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services.

The investigations will include deaths in correctional services facilities.

The Department of Correctional Services is conducting parallel investigations into violence and lawlessness in prisons.