By TimesLIVE

The department of correctional services should prioritise the release of elderly detainees, especially those with underlying health conditions, as well as people serving short sentences for non-violent crimes.

This is according to Sonke Gender Justice, commenting on the health and wellbeing of those incarcerated and working within the prisons during Covid-19.

“Once the state deprives a person of their liberty, it is obliged to provide a duty of care,” the group said in a statement.

It cited the Nelson Mandela Rules, which state: “Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, and should have access to necessary health care services free of charge, without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status.”

Social distancing and handwashing are measures that are practically impossible to follow  in prison, said Sonke. “Not only are almost all of our prisons overcrowded, many of them also lack sufficient running water and hygiene materials.”

Halting visits to prisoners, which government has announced as a Covid-19 precaution, is an insufficient measure, it said.