Operation Vala to secure prisons and keep criminals behind bars

December 4, 2018 5:00 am

Correctional Services chief of security Luchy Mthetwa with Deputy Minister Thabang Makwetla during the launch of Operation Vala at Baviaanspoort Correctional Centre. Picture: Bongani Shilubane African News Agency (ANA)
Pretoria – Criminals serving sentences in South Africa’s 243 prisons will be safely kept behind bars over the festive season, a period characterised by inmates’ launching spirited bids to escape jail to spend time with loved ones.

“As we all know, we have just begun the festive season. It is without any doubt, that time (when) everyone wants to spend time with family and friends.

“It is also a time when inmates in our centres become desperate to escape (jail) for various reasons.

“These include perpetuation of criminal activities or simply the inability to resist the urge of wanting to be with friends and family at this time,” said Correctional Services Gauteng regional commissioner Grace Molatedi.

She made the remarks at the launch of Operation Vala yesterday at Baviaanspoort Correctional Centre in Pretoria.

“The festive season poses a very serious challenge for the department.

“For this reason, an effort is made towards the enhancement of security measures put in place at different correctional centres during the festive season.

She said Operation Vala aimed to tighten security measures at all correctional facilities across South Africa.

“It aims to prevent festive season incidents, and to increase visibility and involvement of managers at all levels in operational activities.

“All law enforcement agencies, the justice, crime prevention and security cluster – including the Department of Correctional Services – are expected to be more vigilant in ensuring that the safety of people, especially during this time of the year, is enhanced,” said Molatedi.

“It is our task to ensure that those who have wronged the law, remain behind bars, and continue to serve their sentences as imposed by the courts.

“Security is not something we take lightly.”

The annual campaign will have the department’s Emergency Support Team and other tactical units ready for all situations including rowdy prisoners, riots and hostage situations.

The tactical units of the department, supported by the South African Police Service, simulated their readiness for eventualities – showcasing the capabilities of the different units, including the equestrian team and the K9 units.

Deputy Minister of Correctional Services Thabang Makwetla said the annual initiative sought to tighten security measures across the department’s 243 correctional centres to prevent festive season related assaults and escapes.

“When we commence the festive season, as a responsible department that takes the security of South African communities serious, we jack up our systems to make sure that South Africa and its communities are safe.

“I hope the spirit in which we do this as a department is appreciated by the offenders.

“Because it is also aimed at making sure that our correctional centres’ cells do not experience some of the unfortunate things that we do now and again to our embarrassment.”

He said the department made sure that all inmates had a safe and secure festive time, and hoped that their families and themselves understood the need to limit movement during this period.

“It is not that we are heartless; we want everybody safe and secure during this period,” Makwetla added.

Officials from the department’s Emergency Support Team showed Makwetla dangerous contraband confiscated from inmates after these had been smuggled into cells.

These included different types of knives and sharp objects, some shaped from various materials from prison workshops, and glass and wood pieces converted to piercing weapons.

Emergency support officer Ian Smal said: “These can be very dangerous, so we are the team that underwent intense training to deal with riots and fights.

“We stay out of their sight unless we are coming in to intervene.

“This is so that they don’t study our habits and patterns.”

Smal said the public did not know this, but emergency support officers were busy very often because in prisons “anytime could be tea time”.

“He said tensions sometimes sparked violence because different inmates of different races, beliefs and gang affiliations shared a space.

“Around the festive season they are expected to be a bit hostile because they are people, and like everyone, they want to be with their families and children.

“It can be a difficult time and some may try to escape and as a result assault officials,” he added.

Pretoria News

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