Deaths of Prisoners in South Africa

The deaths of prisoners in South Africa should be handled with dignity and sensitivity. All deaths that have happened in the prison should be investigated thoroughly to make sure that nothing illegal happened to the prisoner and that the death was because of natural causes and not murder.

Questions must be Asked about Deaths of Prisoners

If there are any questions by the family members about the deaths of prisoners in custody, necessary documents should be provided to prove that there was an investigation. There should also be a clear indication if the death of the prisoner was natural or Deaths of prisoners in South Africaunnatural.

With the Department of Correctional Services, it is important to distinguish between natural and unnatural death of a prisoner.

The term natural, means when nothing illegal has happened to the prisoner, and he/she died of an illness. Unnatural death means, when a prisoner dies from an accident or by murder.

There are some things that need to be done, when a prisoner dies in prison. No matter if the death was natural or unnatural.

The following applies when a prisoner dies in any South African prison:

In case of a death were the practitioner couldn’t specify the reason for the death
because of the type of natural death that the prisoner has died from, the death should be
investigated.

The investigation should be carried out in terms of the Inquests Act (58 of 1959). The head of the prison should then report the death accordingly.

    • It is also the duty of the head of prison to inform the next of kin about the prisoners
      death in custody as soon as possible
    • Once an investigation has been held, the head of prison is required to bury any prisoner who has died in cus
    • All deaths of prisoners, no matter if it is natural or unnatural, should be
      recorded by the head of prison and a report sent to the Office of the Inspecting
      Judge.
    • The burial should take place in the district where the prisoner was detained.

Extenuating Circumstances

There are some cases where the next of kin is allowed to take the deceased prisoner
and bury him at their own costs. If the next of kin wants to bury the deceased prisoner in another magisterial district, they need to get permission from the Commissioner

The costs of the transport are payable by the person who has submitted the request to take the deceased prisoner to another magisterial district.

When a prisoner dies while in custody, it is the responsibility of the head of prison to
ensure that the right procedures are done. Investigations should be carried out to ensure the cause of death.

Every death should be handled with sensitivity and thoroughness. It is also the head of prison that is responsible to inform the next of kin about the death of the prisoner.

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