Prison warders are unable to distinguish between a naturally violent inmate and a mentally ill inmate as they receive no training in identifying mental illness.

This is according to Police and Prison Civil Rights Union (Popcru).

“If [a mentally ill] a prisoner is identified, they will be taken to the hospital section where a psychiatrist will conduct an assessment then prescribe relevant treatment,” said Popcru General Secretary Nkosinathi Theledi.

In February, 3 755 inmates were recorded as being mentally ill out of a population of almost 150 000.

Twenty one inmates committed suicide in 2013/14, according to theCorrectional Service Department’s 2013/14 annual report, an increase from 13 in the previous financial year.

Although the Department of Correctional Services said it is attending to the needs of inmates who have been identified with mental illnesses, it acknowledged that the mental health needs of awaiting trial prisoners – some 28% of the prison population – are unknown.

“It is not possible to know how many awaiting trial detainees are in need of mental health care unless, on admission, they report or submit any form of proof that they are receiving treatment,” said Correctional Services spokesman Manelisi Wolela.

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