Gauteng High Court grants prisoner permission to use laptop behind bars

There are concerns that criminals are enjoying too many privileges in the country.

According to a report by TimesLive, the South Gauteng High Court has ordered that Mbalenhle Ntuli, an inmate at Johannesburg Medium C prison, be allowed to use his laptop, without a modem, in his single cell.

Ntuli, who represented himself in court, took the national commissioner, the correctional services minister and head of the prison to court after he was denied access to his laptop, which he needs for distance learning.

He accused the authorities of “infringing on his right to further education” by restricting his study time to when the computer room facility is open.

Advocate Kutlwano Motla, representing the correctional services department and the prison, argued that inmates should not be allowed to have a computer in their cells because it was a security risk.

She said inmates could smuggle modems into their cells and use the computers to contact people on the outside. They could get involved in illicit organisations and could facilitate prison outbreaks, according to Motla.

But acting judge Matsemela said in his judgment on Friday that no evidence had been provided to prove a security risk. He said the prison policy that bans the use of laptops in single cells was an infringement of inmates’ right to study freely. Inmates have the right to study as they please within the legitimate limitations that prison life entails, he said.

“The policy withholds benefits, opportunities and advantages, on the grounds that he is a prisoner, thereby adversely affecting the equal enjoyment of his right to further education,” read the judgment.

South Africa’s most famous ex-prisoner once wrote in his autobiography that “no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails”. 

In December 2015, the United Nation general assembly adopted the first update to minimum standards on treating prisoners in 50 years – and named it in late South African president Nelson Mandela’s honour.

The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners – known as the Nelson Mandela rules – contain 122 rules which “represent, as a whole, the minimum conditions which are accepted as suitable by the United Nations”.

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The assembly further decided that Nelson Mandela International Day, celebrated on 18 July each year, be used to promote humane conditions of imprisonment.

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