n Acta Criminologica : African Journal of Criminology & Victimology - Guidelines to prevent deaths in police cells, based on a regulation implementation gap analysis

Special Edition 2
  • ISSN : 1012-8093


The purpose of this article is to describe what contribute to deaths in police cells and identify guidelines for its prevention. The researcher collected data from the dockets relating to deaths in police cells in Gauteng and Limpopo for the period 1 April 2009 to 31 March 2010. The data were collected with a docket analysis schedule and categorised into themes. The study was designed in terms of the pragmatic philosophical worldview and is descriptive in nature. Four causes of deaths in police cells were identified, namely, suicide, natural causes, assault by fellow detainees and injuries which were sustained prior to detention. Suicide is the leading cause of deaths, followed by natural causes, assault by fellow detainees and injuries sustained prior to detention. The most common ligatures which were used to commit suicide are shoe-laces, belts and strips torn from clothing and bedding items. The preferred ligature points are the burglar proofs on cell windows. Booted feet and hands were the most common instruments used to inflict fatal injuries on the detainees. It was also found that police officials are generally not complying fully with the standing orders which regulate the management of people who are detained in police cells. The failure of police officials to comply fully with the standing orders on custody in police cells contributed to the deaths of detainees in police cells. Guidelines are provided to prevent the deaths of detainees in police cells. Deaths in police cells are highly preventable, as they occur in a highly regulated and controlled setting. Strict adherence to the regulations pertaining to detaining suspects need to be followed, the removal of ligature points in the cells and the replacement of blankets which can be torn, will contribute to the prevention of deaths in police cells.

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