Corruption in the prisons context

The point of departure of this paper is that corruption is a human rights issue, which is accentuated in the prison context given the nature of imprisonment. Three factors create an intrinsic risk for corruption in prisons. Firstly, the all-encompassing nature of imprisonment regulates every aspect of prisoners' daily lives: from having the most basic necessities to having access to luxury items, or even illegal items and activities. Secondly, the state as the controller, establishes a highly unequal power relationship between the prison bureaucracy (represented by the warder) and the prison population. Thirdly, the closed nature of prisons and their general marginalisation from the public eye and political discourse do not assist in making prisons more transparent. Against this backdrop, poor management, weak leadership or organised crime can have a devastating impact on the overall operation of a prison system and, ultimately, on the human rights of prisoners. The paper seeks to clarify key concepts relating to prison corruption. By means of defined relationships, for example between individual warders and individual prisoners, or prisoners and warders as collectives, the nature of prison corruption is described. It concludes that there are fundamental differences between prison corruption and corruption found in others sectors of the public service. The research was done prior to the release of the Jali Commission Report Executive Summary and relied on publicly available documents.

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