PRETORIA (Reuters) - Oscar Pistorius will be committed to the hospital wing of one of South Africa’s toughest prisons if the double-amputee Olympic track star is sentenced to jail time for killing his girlfriend, the head of the prison service said on Thursday.
On the fourth day of Pistorius’ sentencing hearing, Zach Modise, who has worked in the prison service for 35 years, was questioned by the defense about conditions at the Pretoria Central Prison, Pistorius’ most likely destination because of its disabled facilities.
The jail was the execution site of dozens of black political activists by South Africa’s apartheid government, which handed over power after the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994.
It is also the home of apartheid death squad leader Eugene de Kock, known as ‘Prime Evil’, and is known for a vicious gang culture. Beatings, male rape and murder cases have been reported there in South African media.
However, Modise said the reality of the prison was a long way from the popular perception and said Pistorius’ disability - his lower legs were amputated as a baby - would ensure he was kept in a separate wing.
“The Department of Correctional Services is ready to admit and detain people with disabilities,” said Modise, who was also quizzed by defense lawyer Barry Roux about the problem of tuberculosis among inmates at the prison.
Pressed to give details about the prison’s population and facilities for the disabled, Modise conceded that there was only one resident doctor for every 7,000 inmates.
Modise said Pistorius would have access to a cell of his own and that a suitability test would be conducted to determine the athlete’s particular needs.
On Tuesday probation officer Annette Vergeer, testifying for the defense, said prison would “break” Pistorius because of his disability and psychological problems.
Throughout the sentencing hearing, the defense has been fighting to keep the 27-year-old out of jail, citing his disability as a reason.
On Monday, a social worker recommended Pistorius be sentenced to three years of community service and house arrest at his uncle’s Pretoria mansion.
Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide for the negligent killing of law graduate Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year when he fired four shots through a toilet door in the mistaken belief an intruder was lurking behind it.
Culpable homicide in South Africa is punishable by up to 15 years in prison in the most serious cases, or by a suspended sentence, house arrest and community service in lighter ones.
The state and the defense will present final arguments on Friday, after which Judge Thokozile Masipa is expected to retire for several days to considering her judgment.
Editing by Ed Cropley and Dominic Evans