96 Barberton prison

Mbombela – Ninety-six inmates of Barberton Prison, in 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”, GroundUp has reported.

This is the second hunger strike in the prison during 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;

• Some lifers being long overdue for parole consideration.

The inmate said he was a lifer who had been behind bars for 17 years and had never been to a parole board.

All they were told was that there was backlog in the Department of Correctional Services. He was sentenced in 2001.

At about 07:00 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 October 1, 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.

Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo confirmed the hunger strike, saying a total of 96 prisoners, serving life sentences at Barberton Medium B, had 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 the Barberton management area, Solly Netshivhazwaulu, had addressed the inmates. He said there were 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 is now under control and the 96 inmates have been separated from other offenders for the purposes of proper monitoring,” said Nxumalo.

See also: Minimum sentences must go, says Constitutional Court judge