10 October 2016

Belt and Braces Approach: SAHA assists with obtaining records on restraining prisoners

As a human rights NGO, with a particular interest in expanding the right of access to information, SAHA is always eager to assist in increasing the pool of available information for journalists, researchers and the public at large. So when we were approached by the Omega Foundation about gaining access, in support of their research, to information about the use of restraints when detaining prisoners we were eager to assist.

The PAIA request

SAHA submitted an access to information request, in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act, 2000 (PAIA) (PAIA request) to the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) for records that might reveal the kinds of restraints used on detainees. The request specifically asked for information about transport, the stun belts and electronically activated devices used and the rank or position within the DCS that an official of the department would have to hold in order to be authorised to operate these devices. The Department responded to our request within the 30 days provided for under PAIA with a decision to release the records as they related to our request.

The records received

We have archived the records received, including a policy document outlining the utilisation of security equipment, as part of the Freedom of Information Programme Collection, and they are publicly accessible on our website. Omega Foundation, in the meantime has put the information gleaned to good use, generating multiple policy briefs entitled compliance through pain, manufacturing torture and tools of torture in the hope of further informing policy discussion and to increase awareness about the circumstances around detention in South African prisons.

Information enabling activism

As a big part of SAHA’s Freedom of Information Programme’s work is supporting research by making access to information requests, we are happy to see the information being used to further other rights, such as those of detainees in South African prisons. This type of constructive partnering can only increase the success of the non-profit sector, in our joint endeavour to create a free and open society. Bringing information like this into the public domain is also likely to bring attention to something that is not necessarily at the forefront of the minds of most South Africans, and hopefully it will lead to more public discussion on such issues.

> Access FOIP's PAIA request tracker

> Read more of the requests made to the Department of Corrections

> Access the Requestee page