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Barberton prisoners go on hunger strike

Ninety-six inmates in Barberton Prison, Mpumalanga, who are serving life sentences, went on a hunger strike on Thursday because of what an inmate described as “unfair delays of the processes of parole consideration”.

This is the second hunger strike in the prison in the past year.

An inmate told GroundUp that their complaints include

  • unfair delay tactics by correctional officials,
  • feedback on parole queries from the National Council for Correctional Services (NCCS) taking more than 90 days,
  • failure by the prison to submit files to the NCCS,
  • and some lifers being long overdue for parole consideration.

The inmate said he himself was a lifer who has now been behind bars for 17 years and has never been to a parole board. All they are told is that there is backlog in the Department of Correctional Services. He was sentenced in 2001.

At about 7am on Thursday, inmates started returning their food.

The law governing who may be considered for parole is complicated. In a nutshell, prisoners sentenced to life after 1 October 2004 can only be considered for parole after 25 years. Prisoners sentenced before then can be considered for parole after serving about half this time.

Spokesperson for Correctional Services, Singabakho Nxumalo, confirmed the hunger strike, saying a total of 96 offenders serving life sentences at Barberton Medium B, opted not to take breakfast on Thursday morning. “Parole consideration of lifers is the prime issue as they largely complained about the backlog.”

Nxumalo said that the Area Commissioner of Barberton Management Area, Solly Netshivhazwaulu, addressed the inmates. He said there are a number of factors leading to the backlog, including lack of reports from social workers and psychologists, “as well as outstanding restorative justice interventions”.

Nxumalo said one of the ways that the department was attempting to deal with the problem was to set up a database with the details of all lifers and when they were due for parole.

“The situation in now under control and the 96 inmates have been separated from other offenders for the purposes of proper monitoring,” said Nxumalo.

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