Labour and Home affairs minister, Peter Siele says that there is no same-sex in prisons and sees no reason to make any assumptions that there is.
On the other hand, specially elected MP and former Health Minister, Professor Sheila Tlou, believes that such sex does occur and suggests that the government should consider introducing a conjugal visitation programme for inmates. In the past, a High Court judge has chosen not to impose custodial sentence on a young offender to keep him away from “HIV/AIDS rapists in prisons.”
Siele has just returned from a tour of prisons and has been on Btv saying that nowhere did prisoners ask to be provided with condoms.
Translated that means there is no reason for the government to cave in to pressure and give prisoners condoms because even prisoners themselves don’t want them.
Subsequently quizzed by Sunday Standard as to whether he accepts, at the very least, that there is sex in prison the minister answered in the negative.
“I don’t believe there is. Out of the 22 prisons in the country, I visited almost 17 and I heard nothing from either the officers or the prisoners themselves about sex in prison,” Siele said.
As to whether it would not be prudent to assume that sex occurs and on that basis take precautionary measures, Siele replied: “I don’t have evidence and I have no cause to make any assumptions.”
Peter Tshukudu of Ditshwanelo, a human rights group, says that they have tried – in vain – to get the government to distribute condoms in prisons to contain the spread of HIV/AIDS, if only as a precaution. One of the arguments advanced by government officials they met with, Tshukudu says, was that the government could not supply products that would be used in the commission of a criminal offence.
“But we said to them that we have a challenge to tackle. What are we supposed to do? Do we allow people to die? Do we allow the spread of the virus to get out of control?” Tshukudu remembers of these talks.
Despite what the minister and the government believe, sodomy is said to be rife in prisons. Additionally, what the minister says is confusing in that the government itself seems to accept that there is illegal, man-to-man hanky-panky in prison. There are instances when sodomy-in-prison cases are heard at the government’s own customary courts. In some instances, the accused are found guilty and sentenced accordingly.
Some years ago, one such case that involved three male prisoners came before the Mahalapye customary court. One of the men was the ‘girlfriend’ the other two men had fought over.
On what should have been a normal morning, an elderly male prisoner went to see another prisoner carrying (and later brandishing) a spade he was using in his prison-work programme. To the other prisoner he bitterly complained that “Monna, o nthubela lelwapa! – “you are wrecking my home.”
It rankled with the elderly man that his years-old ‘home’ was falling apart despite the fact that he was doing all he could to keep it together with presents of toothpaste, cigarette, soap bars and other goodies hard to come by in prison. This bit of information came out as evidence during the trial.
The other man was defiant, soon an argument started and in no time escalated into an out-and-out fight during which the home-wrecker was badly injured. However, the latter had the last laugh as he managed to talk himself out of trouble while his co-accused were found guilty of engaging in “acts of gross indecency.” That is how the Penal Code describes sodomy.
Passing judgment in a manslaughter case in 2001, Justice Maruping Dibotelo decided not to send a 16-year old offender to prison, reasoning as follows: “With the scourge of HIV/AIDS in this country it would not be difficult to imagine what the consequences would be when young offenders [inevitably] mixed with hardened HIV positive or AIDS rapists in the prisons. It would be difficult to ignore that reality when sentences of imprisonment were passed on young offenders.”
Government Whip and the parliamentary HIV/AIDS committee member, Botlogile Tshireletso, says that she cannot be certain that there is sodomy in prison and suggests that a study should be carried out to make that determination.
The Mahalapye East MP is against the distribution of condoms to inmates as that might be construed as encouragement of homosexuality that would be frowned upon by the majority of society. She also says that she doesn’t know and has not heard of anyone who died of AIDS they had contracted in prison.
Former health minister Tlou sees the issue very differently from Siele and Tshireletso. Tlou says that when she was minister at least eight ex-prisoners ÔÇô all male ÔÇô came to her and told her that they were infected with AIDS while in prison.
“For me this is evidence enough that sex does occur in prison. We actually have people who go to prison HIV negative, come back HIV positive, rejoin the general population and resume heterosexual relationships. This is where some of the infection of women is coming from,” Tlou says.
The MP says that there is urgent need to ensure that the prison population benefits from “all the services” like prevention, treatment, care and support that the general free population benefits from. Provision of condoms is a prevention service and Tlou says that, like people outside, prisoners should also benefit from this service.
In the event that the government cannot countenance distributing condoms for homosexual activity in prison, Tlou suggests that then it should consider extending conjugal visits to prisoners.
The latter are scheduled extended visits during which an inmate is permitted to spend several hours or days in privacy, usually with a legal spouse. Parties may engage in sexual activity. Countries that have this programme include Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Denmark, France, Mexico, Russia, the United States and Saudi Arabia.
Apparently, the condoms-for-prisoners conundrum is one that does not always lend itself to intellectual honesty. Even in so-called developed parts of the world, there is still a great discrepancy between official policy and what is likely to happen inside a dark prison cell.
In some prisons in Switzerland, condoms are made available by the prison medical service although their issue is not officially approved by the prison administration. The state of California in the United States is soon to launch a pilot programme to provide condoms to inmates but when caught using them, prisoners will be charged for violating the prison sex ban.
Advocates of distributing condoms to prisoners say this is a wise investment in that it prevents taxpayers from eventually having to pay for the care of HIV-infected inmates and those they infected.
Other countries (or administrative jurisdictions within them) see free distribution of condoms to prisoners as sound public health policy. In the Netherlands, prison officials are obliged by law to provide inmates with condoms.