Image: 123RF
Image: 123RF

A parliamentary briefing by department of correctional services officials did little to reassure MPs that the department has made progress with its management.

It emerged that the department still faces 999 civil claims amounting to R284m for a variety of alleged omissions such as failing to prevent assault and rape among inmates, as well as breach of contract and unlawful detention. The civil claims were those outstanding at end-December 2019.

The correctional services subcommittee of the portfolio committee of justice & correctional services heard on Friday that the department is a “leaking bucket” in terms of its ability to recruit and retain staff.

As at February 3 there were 49 vacancies at senior management level, translating into a vacancy rate of 22.7% of the total of 216 posts. The department employees more than 35,000 people.

The department has not yet fully implemented the integrated inmate management system, which will provide a nationally accessible record of prisoners as well as access to their records by the different units within the same prison. This information is now held on a decentralised basis at the prison where the prisoner is incarcerated. The aim is to create one automated, centralised system.

Subcommittee chair Richard Dyantyi (ANC) said in an interview after the meeting that the department is in bad shape “given the high vacancy rate, high turnover rate ... people are going in an out [of the department] and there is no stability. This affects the middle to senior management, and with that you are always going to struggle to perform and deliver on any targets and mandates”.

‘Losing war against crime’

DA spokesperson on correctional services James Selfe said the department is degenerating, especially regarding the integrated inmate management system. “We have been talking for at least seven years about the systems that need to be put in place and I don’t know how many hundreds of millions of rand have been spent trying to rectify the situation.

“Unless there is co-ordination within the department and between the various departments in the criminal justice system we are fighting a losing war against crime,” Selfe said.

He expressed concern about other aspects of the department’s presentation regarding low staff and rehabilitation levels, poor morale, underexpenditure, and vacancies. The turnaround strategies that the department has devised over the last 20 years have not yielded much, he said.

Chief deputy commissioner for human resources Patrick Mashibini said the situation in the department is analogous to a “leaking bucket” in that while it filled the staff requirements in a month, the same number or even more left the department through resignation, natural attrition, transfers and dismissals in the same month.

Due to the situation the department is continuously underspending on its budget for employee compensation and has to return a “huge amount” of unspent funds to the Treasury at the end of each financial year.

“If this trend is not arrested, chances are that the National Treasury will continue to reduce the compensation of employees of the department to [the point] where delivery of correctional services will eventually suffer,” Mashibini said.

An amount of R25.4bn was allocated to the department in the 2019-20 budget.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za