Convicts get so desperate to escape from the country’s 246 prisons to spend Christmas with loved ones that they would kill and maim prison warders to get away.
Prison officials are bracing themselves to ensure that this does not happen through Operation Vala‚ an operation aimed at intensifying vigilance to counter the high prevalence of festive season escapes.
The operation was officially kicked-off at Baviaanspoort correctional services centre in Pretoria on Wednesday.
Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Manelisi Wolela said there was a high number of items such as guns‚ knives and cell phones smuggled into prisons which are ultimately utilised by prisoners in their break-outs.
He said Operation Vala was introduced in 2005 as a joint operation between the SA Police Service‚ SA National Defence Force‚ Metro police and other law enforcement agencies aimed at curbing prison escapes around the festive season.
“Due to this high number of attempts and violence in prisons around this time‚ it was decided that we need this campaign to reduce escapes and reduce the rate of smugglings into prisons.
“Before this was introduced we had a high number of hostage situations‚ a high number of officials that were maimed and paralysed because of the intensity of these incidents around December‚” he said.
Wolela said the department is rolling out cell phone detectors‚ and for now‚ as a priority‚ 39 facilities have been equipped to monitor all communication device activity whether by officials or prisoners.
“We will pick it (a signal) up and we can zoom in the radius of 5m and take it away‚” he said.
According to Wolela‚ there was an average of 40 escapes a year. He said this was low if one considers that the country’s prisons house 159000 inmates.
He said during the previous festive season‚ 15 convicts escaped in one go in the Eastern Cape.
“This is the kind of pressure we are feeling around this time and that is why we have stringent measures and methods. We have an official who is in a wheelchair today because of an attempted escape with a gun smuggled into the facility‚” he added