Women visitors condemn ‘invasive’ prison strip searches

By Anita Dangazele

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Female visitors to St Albans Prison in the Eastern Cape are being searched for contraband in a way that a Gqeberha woman has described as being like a “sexual assault”. 

St Albans Prison authorities have ordered women visitors to be subjected to intrusive vaginal searches before visits because of a recent spike in contraband allegedly smuggled in by female visitors in their private parts.

Nicole Blignault from Gqeberha spoke out on social media and said she was even considering not visiting her father, convicted perlemoen poacher Morné Blignault.

She said she had grown used to being patted down by prison guards when entering the correctional facility over the years, but this new measure was beyond degrading and embarrassing. 

Blignault said she hasn’t visited her father for two weeks because she fears being violated. 

“I can’t see my father because I don’t want to take off my pants and panties and squat down so they can look into my private parts!” she said.

“This is degrading. It’s sexual assault. I don’t care about protocol or procedure. This is unacceptable.” 

Blignault said she would take the fight to the Human Rights Commission if she had to. 

Prison visitors are subject to a body search upon arrival; they are searched again when they enter the waiting area and once again when they leave the waiting area. 

Correctional services spokesperson Nobuntu Gantana confirmed that the facility had introduced stricter search procedures after a spike in illegal exchanges between visitors and inmates. 

“This management area has had 23 security incidents where visitors, mostly females, were found in possession of contraband stuffed into condoms and inserted in their private parts to look like sanitary products,” Gantana said.

She said it was standard protocol for anyone entering or leaving a correctional centre — officials included — to be searched by hand-held metal detectors, as well as to undergo a pat-down over his or her clothed body.

“The search must not be conducted in a manner which invades privacy and undermines the dignity of the person being searched.

“A correctional officer of the same gender as the person being searched must conduct the search, and the search must be conducted in private,” she said.

However, Gantana said the department’s protocols do allow for additional measures to be introduced to prevent illegal substances being smuggled into prisons in terms of the department’s approved security standards operating procedure.

Pictured: St Albans Correctional Facility in Gqeberha.

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