n Acta Criminologica: Southern African Journal of Criminology - Prisons and prisoners' rights : some jurisprudential and historical perpectives

Volume 14, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1012-8093



Much has been said and written on prisons and prisoners' rights. In particular, since 1994, prisoners' rights, indeed all human rights, have taken centre stage in the writings of many South African academics, criminologists, human rights lawyers and other legal commentators. Such writings have focused on the constitutional rights of prisoners and the overcrowding and congestion in our prisons today. What has attracted surprisingly little legal academic attention is the history and development of our prisons and the rights of the inmates. Apart from Dirk Van Zyl Smit's treatment of the subject in several works, few other legal writers have paid any serious attention to this area. Many perhaps think it is a matter for historians and sociologists. It has to be remembered, however, that the prison system, the police and the judiciary are all important links in the chain of the criminal justice system. A full understanding of each of these functionaries is important for a proper appraisal of the whole system. The purpose of this article therefore is to analyse the historical development of prisons and prisoners' rights, not only in South Africa but beyond, if for no other reason, at least as a point of departure for further research and debate. To that end, the article first analyses the justification and rationale for imprisonment and then discusses the origin and history of prisons and prisoners' rights with the focus on South Africa.

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