Mzansi inmates demand laptops to help them study in prison cells

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THE ISSUE of inmates using their laptops or computers in their cells to study will again comes under legal scrutiny next month.

This time, Correctional Services is due to appeal an earlier order in which a judge gave the green light to three inmates to use their computers – minus the modem – in their cells, three years ago.

The judge had said that to the extent that the department’s policy prohibited computers in cells for study purposes, it unfairly discriminated against the inmates on the basis that it affected their ability to further education.

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The application had been brought by three of the so-called Boeremag members, Lets Pretorius and his two sons, Johan and Wilhelm Pretorius.

Pretorius sr is no longer behind bars as he was granted parole last year.

All three were at the Zonderwater Prison at the time and studying through Unisa.

In granting the order to use their computers in their cells, a Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, judge had said had he been asked to declare the Correctional Services Department’s policy of not allowing computers in cells inconsistent with the constitutional right to further education, he might well have done so.

The application, however, focused on the rights of the Pretorius brothers.

There have subsequently been at least three similar applications by inmates, which were all successful.

Others concerning the same topic are pending.

Correctional Services has indicated that it was appealing the Pretorius judgment.

A full Bench is expected to hear the appeal in the Johannesburg High Court on October 8.

The department has said the use of computers in cells posed a security risk and that it was not part of its policy. It said there were designated study rooms with computers that inmates who were enrolled in tertiary studies could use.

The Pretorius family had counter-argued that, telling the court that lock-up time at the prison was early in the day, which left them with many hours in which they could not access their computers to study.

Their lawyer, Julian Knight, said that although the Pretorius brothers were able to use their computers in their cells following the 2018 judgment, the department subsequently took them away from them, pending the appeal application.

Meanwhile, inmate Brian Mailula, who is serving time in a Joburg prison, through Lawyers for Human Rights, wants to intervene in the appeal by the department against the Pretorius judgment.

He is a registered student and has battled for years to be able to use his laptop in his cell.

He is an applicant in a similar matter that is pending before the Johannesburg High Court, but that application is dragging.

As it involves a similar subject as that of the Pretorius appeal, Lawyers for Human Rights asked that he intervene in the appeal.

It is understood that the court yesterday turned down the application to intervene. The organisation was considering its options in that regard.

Arguments on behalf of Mailula are that the department’s policy of a blanket prohibition on the use of computers or laptops inside a single cell is invalid and unlawful.

Mailula was one of several inmates in Johannesburg Medium Correctional Centre who were studying at their personal expense.

Until December 2017, the inmates had been using personal computers in their single cells to study through Unisa.

The inmates brought the Barnabas application to challenge the policy procedure which prevented them from continuing with their studies in this manner, but that application is also dragging its heels.

– Pretoria News


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