No compensation for UK prisoners banned from voting

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has refused to order compensation for over 1 015 United Kingdom(UK) inmates who were banned from voting for three years, The Guardian reported.

Despite findings that the UK continued to violate prisoners’ right to partake in elections. And despite,the Strasbourg court’s first finding back in October 2005 that the UK governments’ blanket ban on permitting any prisoner to vote – as illegal.

The court said it was a violation of article three of protocol one to the European convention on human rights, which states: “The High Contracting Parties undertake to hold free elections at reasonable intervals by secret ballot, under conditions which will ensure the free expression of the opinion of the people in the choice of the legislature.”

The prisoners claim that they were prevented from voting in elections of the European parliament on June 9 in 2009, the British parliamentary election of May 6 in 2010 and elections to the Scottish parliament, the Welsh assembly and the Northern Irish assembly on May 5 in 2011″.

“We are in a position where the government appears to take a perverse pleasure in unlawfully breaching the human rights of thousands of its citizens. It should be extremely worrying to all of us that the government seems to have so little regard for its international human rights obligations or the rule of law,” said Sean Humber, head of the human rights department at Leigh Day, who is acting for 554 clients who were imprisoned at the time of the May 2010 general election and refused the right to vote.

While in South Africa, the Section 19(3) of the South African Constitution states: Every adult citizen has the right – (a) to vote in elections for any legislative body established in terms of the Constitution, and to do so in secret…

But this right has not always been extended to prisoners. According to Lydia Young, media facilitator at the Electoral Commission, “The Electoral Act had provisions that made it impossible for prisoners to register and allowed only prisoners sentenced to terms of imprisonment with the option to vote.”

“As part of the process of preparation for national and provincial elections, the Electoral Commission does voter registration in correctional facilities. Ahead of 2014 elections, 14,283 prisoners were registered in the correctional facilities. The South African registration is based on the concept of registration in a voting district of ordinary residence. So those incarcerated were placed in voting district where there ordinarily resident when not in a correctional facility,” said Young.

For purposes of voting, prisoners are deemed to be ordinarily resident in the voting district in which the prison is situated. As one voting services a voting district a mobile unit leaves the voting station for the correctional facility in order to receive votes from those incarcerated. These votes are then put together with the votes cast at the voting station.

According to Young, “As a result the Electoral Commission does not keep a separate count of the votes cast in correctional facilities.”

Related reading

The mark a few prisoners will make


Detention Justice Forum Annual General Meeting 2015: Forging synergies for human rights and dignity

DJF logo



26 February 2015

Human rights groups and organisations affirmed their commitment to advocating for human rights and constitutional compliance within the criminal justice sector in South Africa.

The Detention Justice Forum (DJF) comprises of civil society organisations concerned with the rights of detainees. It was established in March 2012 with the aim of ensuring that the rights and well-being of those who are detained are protected, promoted, and fulfilled.

On 12 and 13 February, member organisations attended the Forum’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Braamfontein. The Wits Justice Project, Just Detention International-South Africa, and Sonke Gender Justice were unanimously elected to serve on the coordinating committee of the DJF.

Various human rights issues were discussed during the two-day meeting. The DJF noted with grave concern a number of instances where the health of both inmates and warders was being endangered in correctional centres. This includes cases of ARV and TB medication not being made available to detainees, as well as of inmates with chronic and emergency medical needs being neglected by both public hospitals and the Department of Correctional Services (DCS).

Of particular concern to the Forum was the issue of the working conditions of warders. Correctional Services officials face challenges such as shocking inmate-to-warder ratios — where four or five officers are often required to oversee up to 1400 inmates; feel inadequately trained for the complexity and high demands of their jobs, and unsupported by their leadership.  In addition, the DJF received a briefing on the severe overcrowding in Pollsmoor Correctional Centre and expressed strong concerns about the complaints received by Independent Correctional Centre Visitors (ICCV) regarding the 200 inmates who had to sleep on the floor in Pollsmoor for months. Despite various attempts by the ICCVs and civil society organisations to escalate the problem to the appropriate Department of Correctional Services (DCS) authorities, no action had been taken. Pollsmoor is currently at 300% capacity and has been greater than 200% for the last decade.

DJF members also discussed the ongoing inability of the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services (JICS) to provide effective and independent oversight. Research commissioned by the Forum ( and presented at the AGM shows how JICS’s administrative dependence on DCS and its limited resources requires urgent statutory reform, to ensure that it is able to carry out its vital oversight responsibilities.

In this regard, the Forum discussed the vital importance of the ratification of the Optional Protocol of the United Nations Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), seeing it as a foundation stone for effective oversight in South Africa, through the establishment of the OPCAT-required national preventative mechanism. DJF members agreed to continue to advocate for the ratification of the OPCAT by South African authorities, especially given the increase in the number of reported cases of torture and assaults of inmates.

Member organisations noted with appreciation the positive impact resulting from the prison visitors programme of the Constitutional Court, in which the Justices of that court visit correctional centres on an annual basis. The DJF noted in particular the reports of visits to Boksburg and Modderbee correctional centres by Justice Edwin Cameron, which document the positive outcomes such visits can have. Importantly, the Boksburg Siyanakekela HIV Support Group for inmates, which was disbanded by DCS after the Group complained about disruptions in the supply of antiretroviral medicines, was re-established at Justice Cameron’s urging.

Member organisations resolved to continue their rights-based work and improve the conditions of people living and working within correctional facilities.



[Note to Editors]

The Detention Justice Forum (DJF) consists of civil society organisations concerned with detainees’ rights. It was established in March 2012 with the explicit aim to ensure that the rights and well-being of those who are detained are respected and upheld, as enshrined under the South African Constitution, laws, and international human rights norms and standards.

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WJP teaches journalism ethics in Orange Farm

IMG_2079Thetha FM (100.6) is an institution in Orange Farm. The blood red signage is known throughout the community, and now the radio station has moved out of the dark, dusty high school, away from the farm animals and into glass, fish bowl studios. The station has moved to Orange Farm Mall and shoppers can look at who is on air – speaking into their mics and pushing faders – while they ride up the escalator. The offices are now plush and built right above the mall’s food court.

The new Thetha FM has the same sense of character and integrity that WJP found back in 2013 when we started our editorial partnership. Since then we have produced dozens of hours of quality, legal-based radio together and we look forward to seeing the station, producers and presenters rise to the pressures of the changing environment.

On Saturday the 7th of February, we ran a training seminar for the Thetha FM staff. The training seminar was developed to enhance Thetha FM’s practices in journalism and as a consulting workshop in preparation for our new venture The Citizen Justice Network. The Citizen Justice Network will work in eight community radio stations around the country to train people in legal radio journalism.

During the seminar WJP spent a great deal of time teaching ethics. We analyzed how you balance an on-air personality while remaining objective and unbiased. Certain presenters at Thetha FM have needed security escorts after outbursts on air so we had a great deal to chat about. We looked at political and emotional bias. From there we shifted into interviewing styles, right of reply, fact checking, show preparation, how to find a quality story and how to keep one alive day after day.

The quality of journalism is varied at a community radio level. The listener figures are high, but the basics of journalism are often circumvented.  We believe – especially when it comes to legal and justice journalism – that by beefing up these practices at a community level we will enhance a community’s media and allow them to understand their rights more fully.

The Oscars and the WJP: racial inequality and the criminal justice system

This year’s Oscars ceremony saw a powerful acceptance speech (above), and a moving performance that brought many celebrities to tears, by John Legend and Common, in which they spoke movingly about the current racial inequalities in the United States. Just a day later, the Wits Justice Project held its own lunchtime presentation on racial history and mass incarceration in South Africa and the United States of America.

Jennifer Taylor is a racial justice and criminal defense lawyer at the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), which recently released a report documenting nearly 4000 lynchings in the American South from 1877-1950. She has spent the last two months in South Africa as a visiting researcher with the Wits Justice Project, exploring the common links between the two countries’ histories of racial injustice and current criminal justice crises.

Jennifer’s presentation included an overview of her work at the EJI, which focuses on death-row exonerations, as well as rectifying the effects of racial inequalities perpetuated by the criminal justice system. She said that she had been surprised to find how many problems of injustice and inequality are shared by both the US and South Africa, despite the fact that South Africa has one of the best constitutions in the world.

In her research – during which she conducted interviews with staff of the South African Human Rights Commission, Department of Correctional Services Security, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, as well as former inmates and academic experts – Jennifer argues that South Africans did not evaluate the criminal justice system after the end of apartheid. The system of laws, which had been put in place to uphold a deeply unjust and immoral apartheid regime, should have been scrutinized and improved, to ensure it would no longer perpetuate racial inequality or miscarriages of justice.

Jennifer Rae Taylor, staff attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative (left) and Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, project coordinator of the Wits Justice Project (right)

Jennifer Rae Taylor, staff attorney at the Equal Justice Initiative (left) and Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, project coordinator of the Wits Justice Project (right)

Reflecting on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and transitional justice, Jennifer discussed the lack of a distinction between political crimes and other types of crime, highlighting how under the apartheid regime any crime could have easily been classified as a political crime because of the specificity of what the system intended to attain.

There was no critical analysis of how the apartheid legal framework – put in place to uphold an unjust and inhumane system – factored into someone committing crime. Furthermore, there hasn’t been an institution similar to the TRC to address the impact of pre-democracy criminal justice on individuals and their communities.

She observed that most of the people she talked to shared a similar sentiment: they were of the view that the militaristic style of the apartheid regime was very effective because it had a clear mandate. When apartheid ended, the mandate of the correctional services was changed, but it was not clear to what and it left a vacuum. This has sometimes resulted in a culture of impunity and a continued disregard for the rights of inmates.

Lawyer refused prison access to tortured inmates

Photo: City Press

Photo: City Press

“An attorney representing inmates who have allegedly been tortured was prevented from accessing his clients incarcerated in Mangaung prison, run by controversial British security company G4S. Both G4S and the Department for Correctional Services (DCS) deny responsibility for the decision. Although this happened in November, the attorney, Egon Oswald, brought it to the attention of the Wits Justice Project recently.

Two lawyers with British law firm Leigh Day, which served an urgent “letter of claim” on behalf of 43 inmates to G4S’s headquarters in Crawley, England, last week, were also denied access …”

Continue reading the article written by WJP senior journalist, Ruth Hopkins, as it appeared in The Starhere

Fear, force and sex in Sun City

in-their-boots“In 2010, the researchers of Just Detention interviewed 28 warders, six inmates and six prison managers about their response to violence in the prison. A recurring issue they discussed was their inability to appropriately prevent or address sexual violence between inmates.

Rape and sexual violence behind bars is a widespread problem, the warders and researchers say. How many inmates are affected, however, is unclear, as the department of correctional services (DCS) does not differentiate between sexual and other forms of violence in its reports.”

Read senior journalist – Ruth Hopkin’s – piece as it appeared in Mail & Guardian. The article gives an overview of the findings from research conducted by Just Detention International-South Africa. Some of the main issues that emerged from the research report included, but were not limited to: (1) disturbingly low staff-to-inmate ratio; (2) lack of training of DCS officials to deal with incidents of sexual violence; and (3) run-down infrastructure. The report was launched on January 28 2015 at the Wits School of Governance, Donald Gordon Auditorium.

Read the full report on JDI’s website and the Department of Correctional Services’ response to the report, here

Additional Readings

Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) 2013/2014 Annual Report


British law firm acts for Bloem prisoners

LeighDay G4S“Forty-three inmates who allege they were tortured by warders in a Bloemfontein prison are preparing to bring their claim before the British High Court.

British law firm Leigh Day is representing the prisoners and served an urgent “letter of claim” to security giant G4S’s headquarters in Crawley in the UK on Thursday …

If the claim is successful, it will be a landmark case for prisoners incarcerated with the biggest security provider in the world. G4S runs eight prisons and several immigration and juvenile detention centres. Its annual revenues are worth £7.4 billion (R132 billion).

With 618 000 employees in 120 countries, it is the largest employer quoted on the London Stock Exchange. Leigh Day has given the security giant three months in which to provide a response.”

Read senior journalist, Ruth Hopkins’, article as it appeared in City Presshere and in The Guardian, here. Also read the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) response to an inquiry by the WJP regarding Mangaung Correctional Centre, here.

Related Readings

Mangaung prison is a private hell

State seizes bedlam-riven Bloem prison

G4S accused of holding South African prisoners in isolation illegally



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