If Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi had it her way, Paralympic sprinter, Oscar Pistorius, would avoid detainment in an overcrowded and unsanitized prison. Limited medical resources available for disabled inmates concern the Wits Justice Project projects coordinator.
Johannesburg’s Wits Justice Project is a civil society group that addresses improvements, issues, and injustices in South Africa’s criminal justice system. Erfani-Ghadimi specializes in public affairs and advocacy; government relations and diplomacy; humanitarian affairs; protocol and external relations; and communications.
With respect to prisoner’s rights, Erfani-Ghadimi attests to South Africa’s constitution and bill of rights being one of the world’s best. However, she says issues with overcrowding challenges its practices. She regards prisoner abuse in these institutions as “a legacy of apartheid.”
A similar case the Wits Justice Project highlighted is that of former inmate, Ronnie Fakude’s. Earlier this year, Fakude, a 50 year-old paraplegic, spent 28 months held on remand, or awaiting trial, before being released on bail with an electronic tag. Having been arrested on fraud charges in December 2011, Fakude had no access to a wheel chair. He is a level four paraplegic forced to wear disposable briefs for having no control over his bowel and bladder.
He remembers using crutches to pull his legs and sleeping in a cot beneath his tuberculosis (TB)-positive cell mate. Normally, the cells are packed twice over with men, some of whom have human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and TB. The men would shove two bunks together and sleep six on the top and six below. Having his own bed, due to his medical status, was a privilege.
Koos Gerber, a spokesman for Correctional Services Department, ascertained that South Africa’s correctional facilities can accommodate disabled persons. However, provided Pistorius with his own cot displaces at least six inmates. Last year, the Pretoria News reported a case of six inmates complaining of being forced to share a single cell with no ventilation and dirty mattresses without bedding. The inmates were detained 18 hours a day and threatened by gangs with sexual violence.
On average South African correctional facilities are overcrowded. This strains ventilation, sanitation and medical care. Medical staff are stretched thin and supplies are limited.
Erfani-Ghadimi argues that Fakude should not have had any detention due to his disability. She says if she had it her way, Pistorius would avoid the overcrowded and unsanitized prisons as well.
Pistorius was tried on premeditated murder charges for the February 2013 killing of girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. According the defense’s argument, he had mistaken Steenkamp for an intruder.
Ruled a case of culpable homicide, an offense lesser than premeditated murder, the court had deemed the killing of Steenkamp an unreasonable mistake. The court concluded that because of the value of human life, regardless of an unidentified person’s intrusion, it is unreasonable to fire a gun at the intruder through a closed-door.
Pistorius could face prison time as a result of the no-minimum sentence culpable homicide poses. The sentence carries a maximum of 15 years to be carried out in one of South Africa’s correctional facilities. It is possible that, given his affluence, he can pay off his prison term and avoid jail time. However, South Africa is under scrutiny for reported favoritism being shown to celebrities and rich, white inmates.
Pistorius fits the description of those formerly shown leniency in South Africa’s prisons. Additionally, his disability has warranted him concern by civil rights groups. But Correctional Services Department says disabled persons will enjoy the same rights as inmates who are able-bodied and that Pistorius will not experience the same leniency formerly exhibited. It is undetermined at this time whether Oscar Pistorius will avoid the overcrowded and unsanitized prison that awaits him.
By Charice Long