G4S regional president Andy Baker responds to the allegations that warders use brutal methods to control prisoners at Mangaung prison in Bloemfontein.
The Mangaung Correctional Centre (MCC) is a state-of-the-art maximum security prison, built to government specifications, that houses approximately 3 000 of the most high-risk inmates in the country.
In the 12 years that G4S has been the operational contractor of the facility, the company has maintained consistently high standards and has taken comprehensive steps to ensure the health and safety of all employees and inmates. MCC is regarded as a benchmark in correctional services and has received numerous national and international awards.
The prison is an excellent example of a Public-Private Partnership and G4S has a strong, constructive relationship with the Department of Correctional Services (DCS).
On 18 September we were placed in a challenging position, after 331 G4S MCC employees were dismissed following unlawful and unprotected industrial action ahead of a wage decision by the Commission for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration (CCMA). As MCC is an essential service, strike action is prohibited by law.
The CCMA tribunal, which presided over the wage arbitration, ruled in favour of G4S, finding that the wage offer made by G4S was fair and reasonable.
Following the dismissals, G4S implemented short and medium term plans to manage the prison staffing to ensure that G4S remained in effective control of the facility. Interventions included temporary resourcing through G4S’s existing pool of employees and emergency assistance from the DCS.
Despite the staffing issues resulting from the illegal strike we have maintained control. Contrary to some media reports, all staff members deployed during the incidents were trained and were able to perform the duties expected of them. Services were performed to the exacting guidelines laid down by our contract with the government.
The female employee, who was recently held hostage at the prison, was not an admin staff member. She is a certified staff member who has been with G4S for 6 years.
During this period there were an unpredicted number of assaults on employees. The increase in and the reason for the attacks, which are believed to have been fuelled by outside influences, are being investigated. We have signed statements from inmates stating that a number of inmates were allegedly incited by dismissed employees to initiate violence in an attempt to destabilise the centre.
G4S welcomed the appointment of an interim manager following the request by G4S to DCS for support. G4S believes that this does not in any way prejudice the contract with DCS, that this measure is temporary, and that full management control of MCC will return to G4S once the current instability has abated.
To date, 334 new recruits have been hired and are being trained and inducted in accordance with our contract and G4S’s strict Correctional Centre protocols. These new staff members will be presented for certification by the end of October 2013.
It is against this background that serious defamatory allegations have been made in the media, including in the Mail & Guardian on October 25 2013. G4S is taking legal advice about these allegations which we strongly deny. In regard to these allegations, the following have reference:
- G4S has a zero-tolerance policy against the use of undue or excessive force, and all staff members know this.
- G4S staff members do not have access to, nor do they prescribe or administer any medication. The health and treatment of inmates are managed by a reputable and independent third-party medical centre.
- Inmates have unrestricted and confidential access to the DCS Controller who is permanently based at the MCC, employees from the office of the Inspecting Judge, the Director, the SAPS, healthcare personnel and psychologists, with whom they can log complaints and raise concerns.
- The role of the G4S members at the medical centre is to deliver prisoners, who are sometimes violent to the centre and to return them to their cells while ensuring the safety of doctors, nurses and inmates.
- G4S staff members’ actions are documented strictly in accordance with standard operational procedures and governing legislation. Emergency Support Team (EST) operations are meticulously recorded and subject to review by the DCS.
- Equipment used by the EST, including electrified riot shields, is legal, non-lethal and is used extensively by riot police and prisons around the world to gain control of and stabilise volatile situations. When inmates pose a possible danger to themselves, fellow inmates and staff, the DCS Controller authorises the deployment of this highly specialised team. EST operations are recorded and are subject to review by the DCS.
- No illegal segregation of inmates is administered by G4S MCC staff members. If inmates pose a security risk, they need to be detained and monitored in more stringent regimes. G4S cannot place an inmate in segregation, nor can it extend the period that an inmate is detained, without the legal and official authorisation of the DCS. The process is meticulously monitored by the DCS Controller, and prisoners are visited daily by healthcare professionals and psychologists.
We view the allegations in a very serious light and G4S will co-operate fully with the DCS investigation into the allegations.
Andy Baker is the regional president of G4S Africa