Idleness and boredom were among the most frequently voiced complaints during our prison visits. Even where prisoners work, cells were usually locked for the night at about 4:00 P.M. and opened before breakfast the next morning. Prisoners who did not work often spent the entire day locked up in their severely overcrowded cells, except for short periods of exercise. In either case, there is very little with which to fill the time.
In the prisons visited by Human Rights Watch, most prisoners had access to some sort of physical recreation, but often as seldom as once a week. In Barberton, prisoners in one section reported that they had been forbidden sports activities for three months, as a form of collective punishment, and alleged that the volleyball game that we witnessed took place specifically because of our February 17, 1993 visit. They said that the last time they had been allowed sports was in November 1992.
An ex-prisoner recently released from Modderbee reported that the only recreational activity prisoners in his section of the prison had access to were soccer games on Sundays. As in Barberton, these might be cancelled if anyone in the section committed a disciplinary infraction. Some of the prisoners interviewed at Modderbee prison reported that they were allowed only an average of two to three hours outdoors a week. They also pointed out that it was because of our visit that they were authorized to exercise on that day. Barberton prison is famous for its boxing, and tournaments are arranged between the different prisons in the complex, sometimes in public. Prisoners generally complained to us about the poor quality of sports equipment, and that they had to pay for items such as balls.
Prisoners in groups A, B and C are allowed to have their own private radios, and group A inmates are allowed televisions, though they have to buy the TV sets or pay for the rental themselves. In some cases, prisoners complained that there were no plugs in their cells and therefore electrical appliances could not be used. Movies, selected by the prison staff or recreation committee (consisting of prisoner representatives), are shown at intervals in many of the prisons.
Only sentenced prisoners have access to prison libraries. These libraries are stocked from local libraries, and the books are exchanged regularly. However, several prisoners complained to us at the quality of the selection of books available to them. Libraries do not include law books for prisoners to use to research their own cases. The right to purchase newspapers and magazines is theoretically limited by privilege group, but these restrictions seemed to be breaking down at those prisons we visited. Evidently, access to broadcast news services has rendered this aspect of censorship meaningless. Unsentenced inmates are allowed, according to the regulations, to purchase magazines and newspapers.
Only prisoners of the two highest classification categories are allowed to practice hobbies, such as crafts. Prisoners in the highest, A group, may be allowed to have pets. We observed one prisoner, a "monitor," with a cat as a pet, which he was allowed to keep in his dormitory cell; we also saw caged birds as pets in various cells.
Female prisoners also had access to some sports, usually netball (a sport usually played by women that is similar to basketball) or volleyball. However, as was the case for work opportunities, much recreational activity for women was stereotypically "feminine," including jewelry classes and fashion shows.
Prisoners may study. Part of the stated purpose of imprisonment is to provide "treatment and training," and thus education is officially encouraged if "a prisoner's deficient or inadequate schooling ... could possibly be a factor in causing crime." However, the regulation dealing with education provides that "Permission to study ... is subject to the discretion of the Commissioner and [the regulation] may in no way be construed as implying that [it] allows any prisoner a right which he can legally claim."110
At the most basic literacy level, a prison usually organizes classes and provides educational materials. These classes are taught by other prisoners, who are paid a nominal fee for this work. Trained teachers are not provided.111 At higher levels, prisoners may take correspondence courses, but they have to pay the tuition and buy all the books, which they may receive by mail. We spoke to many prisoners who were studying by correspondence, including a handful at degree level; however, many more inmates expressed an interest in studying at higher levels and sorrow because they could not afford the cost.
A nineteen-year-old at the Modderbee prison told us that he had completed the basic education in prison and wanted to continue to the next level. "They sent me papers saying that education is not a right but a privilege. My parents don't live in this area, and so I don't have any money."
110 Correctional Services Regulations, Regulation 109(1) & (6).
111 According to the Department of Correctional Services, those prisoners who are selected to teach classes operate under the supervision of a trained instructor, who is a member of the Department. At higher primary school levels, classes are taught by trained instructors or qualified teachers, and at levels up to Matric (the highschool leaving exam) by qualified teachers.