n Law, Democracy & Development - Surveying the prisons landscape - what the numbers tell us

Volume 9, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1028-1053
  • E-ISSN: 2077-4907



As instruments of control, prisons present an interesting part of society when one reflects on the human-rights regime of a country and the maturity of a democracy. The unequal power structure between prisoners and warders, the ever-present underlying threat of violence and coercion, and the common history of secrecy and inaccessibility to the public, seen collectively, place human rights in a high-risk situation. This article will rely on some basic descriptive statistics to provide an insight into South African prisons and highlight some pertinent human-rights issues that need monitoring in a constitutional democracy. The prison population is not a representative sample of the population nor are prisons simply buildings that merely hold people for a period of time. Prisons are complex institutions that, in many respects, reflect the challenges of society on the outside. They have also developed their own unique challenges as institutions that have essentially one purpose, namely to detain people against their will and thus limit their right to freedom of association and movement.

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