A Review of Civilian Oversight over Correctional Services in the Last Decade (Research Paper No. 4)

The restricted and hidden nature of the prison regime was dramatically apparent in apartheid South Africa, where prisons shunned outside scrutiny and engagement in all correctional matters. The correctional system was an inherent part of the political apparatus that upheld the apartheid state. Prisoners were segregated according to race, and the staff hierarchy echoed similar racial lines. The adoption of the Bill of Rights in firstly the interim and then the final Constitution in 1993 and 1996 finally established the right of prisoners to be treated with human dignity and set out the mandatory minimum rights of people deprived of their liberty and those held in custody. These guideline principles, later amplified in the Correctional Services Act of 1998, seek to define how the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) should implement its correctional mandate in keeping people in custody. Recognising the importance of accountability and oversight mechanisms in respect of public institutions, the Constitution created vehicles for civilian oversight. Mechanisms were also created to focus exclusively on prisons. A decade after this transition, it is timeous to evaluate how these mechanisms are functioning, and to what extent they are serving their envisaged purpose.

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