Oscar Pistorius: The brutal prison life that awaits disgraced athlete

Athlete has been sentenced to five years in jail, despite his defence arguing he would be at risk in South Africa's penal system

The home where Oscar Pistorius shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp was a luxurious mansion in the exclusive gated community of Silver Woods Estate, Pretoria.

The brutal conditions the disgraced Paralympian will now encounter in one of South Africa's most notorious are a very different proposition.

After Judge Thokozile Masipa handed down a five-year sentence, the double amputee was immediately led down to the cells. From there he will be transferred to Kgosi Mampuru II prison, previously known as Pretoria Central, where prison authorities have indicated he will be housed in the jail’s hospital section.

This may prove a relative luxury in comparison to the main cells, where 7,000 prisoners live in notoriously overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, sometimes with up to 80 men in a cell intended for half that number – and with inmates sleeping two or three to a bunk.

The athlete’s defence team had argued Pistorius would be at risk of attack and gang rape were he to be given a prison sentence, claiming jail would “break” him.

 

During the sentencing trial Probation officer Annette Vergeer asked: "How can we say Pistorius will not be a victim of gang rape?" and said South African prisons lacked the facilities to properly care for disabled prisoners.

Many inmates at Kgosi Mampuru II, who are often kept inside for up to 23 hours of the day, complain they are the victims of gang attacks who threaten them with rape or attempt to extort them for money.

The Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons recently revealed that South African prison gangs are using HIV infection as punishment, ordering gang members carrying AIDS to rape disobedient inmates in a ritual known as "slow puncture", according to the Mirror.

The jail has one doctor and five psychologist for the inmates. Private doctors are able to visit at the prisoner’s own expense.

If Pistorius is housed in the hospital wing, he will have a toilet, basin, bed with a mattress, sheets and pillow, and a cupboard. Crucially the hospital section has showers with rails, enabling the former athlete to wash himself with the help of a bench.

Nonetheless, Pistorius’ defence lawyer Barrie Roux argued even the hospital wing would endanger his client’s life, suggesting he would be exposed to other illnesses – such as tuberculosis, which is the biggest killer in South Africa’s prisons – and there was no guarantee he would be given a single cell.

The double-amputee will also have his prosthetic legs removed every evening, as "they could be a security risk,” according to penal reform campaign Lukas Muntingh.

There has been huge doubt thrown on the ability of South Africa’s prison system to treat the disabled athlete with respect to his humanity. The entire system currently holds 128 disabled inmates.

Pistorius’ high profile will also not help. Prior to sentencing a South African newspaper ran a report which claimed a prison gang boss had threatened to “take him [Pistorious] out” were he to be placed in prison.

Pretoria Central Prison, renamed Kgosi Mampuru II prison, gained notoriety during the apartheid era as the site of hangings. Death row prisoners were confined in a cell called ‘The Pot’ with up to seven hanged a day.

Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide, South Africa’s equivalent of manslaughter, last month. He was sentenced to five years in jail for culpable homicide. The athlete was also given three years in jail, wholly suspended for five years, for firearm charges.

Steenkamp was killed by the paralympian when he fired four shots through a bathroom door at the model in his luxury Pretoria home on Valentine’s Day last year, having mistaken her for an intruder.

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