Updated 12 September 2014

Will Oscar get 'special treatment' in jail?

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, what will it be like? Will he keep his legs? Will his fame and disability earn him special treatment?


The Oscar Pistorius trial is finally drawing to its close after 6 months of argument. The only thing that remains for now is for Judge Thokozile Masipa to hand down her judgement.

There are a number of crimes that Oscar could be found guilty of, ranging from premeditated murder to culpable homicide. He could also be acquitted of all charges and walk free.

Should Oscar be found guilty, however, it is unlikely that he’ll avoid anything but a substantial sentence behind bars, potentially over 20 years. The length will depend strongly on the crime he is convicted of, if he is convicted.

The sentence may also have a bearing on the specific details of his purgatory, especially the location of it. South African law states that criminals must be incarcerated at the correctional centre closest to their place of residence.

In the case of a murder conviction, Pistorius will most likely serve his sentence in Pretoria’s notorious Kgosi Mumouru prison, previously known as Pretoria Central Prison.  This maximum security facility is specifically designed to hold the country’s most serious criminals, including murderers and gang members.

Read: How would Oscar cope with jail?

The institution was also where the majority of executions were carried out before being outlawed in 1995.

The next question will be as to what degree Pistorius is integrated into the prison community. This could be influenced by two key factors: his disability and his fame. Much conjecture has been made about whether Oscar will be able to keep the prosthetic legs he wears every day, with some indications that the legs could be considered potential weapons, reported the Telegraph. As yet a definitive judgement has not been made on this point, and it may well remain that way until the sentence, if there is one, actually begins.

If he were to lose them, he would find himself in a wheelchair during his detention. This, however, may earn him better living conditions and even a private cell.

The threat of suicide, a point that was alluded to several times during the trial, will likely be present in the judge’s mind. This may also boost his case to be housed separately from the prison population at large. Alternatively, he could find himself serving his sentence at a mental institution, most likely Weskoppies Psychiatric hospital, suggests the Daily Mail.

Oscar’s fame may work for and against him. The Department of Correctional Services would be unwilling to see such a high-profile inmate face the copious violence, rape and death threats that characterise many local jails. However, leniency on the basis of his fame would prompt outcry from the South African public.

Regardless of the technicalities, Oscar’s life will be a far cry from the life he led before Valentine’s Day last year. Inmates are routinely confined to their cells for up to 23 hours a day, something which is potentially torturous for a man whose life until now has revolved around running.

Read: Is it worth sending Oscar to jail?

Prison meals will also be a long way from the carefully-crafted meal plans that come part of life as a professional athlete. A paraplegic inmate who spoke to the Guardian claimed that he was told that the prison’s budget allowed for R11 per inmate, per day. This R11 needed to spread across three meals. Prisoners generally eat a lot of simple carbohydrates like bread or pap, meat is usually low quality cuts and fruit and vegetables are inconsistent in both quality and quantity.

If Pistorius does not manage to escape being housed in the prison’s general population, he’ll face a number of health problems that he will never have faced before. Tuberculosis, one of the country’s biggest killers, is rife in prisons. This has a lot to do with chronic overcrowding, up to 200% of capacity in some institutions claim CNN

A recent study showed that the risk of catching Tuberculosis in Cape Town’s Pollsmoor prison was 90%.

HIV is another huge problem in South African prisons, and one that cannot be viewed in isolation from the rampant sexual violence inside. Gang members routinely take “wyfies” for themselves, young men who are kept as sexual slaves. To resist is to face brutal violence and even death. Again, the government would be very keen for perhaps their most high-profile inmate to avoid this fate.

All of this depends on how Judge Masipa rules, with there still being a chance that Oscar could walk free or face a non-custodial sentence.

Read more:Five-star prisons or hellholes?
The successes and shortcomings of the trialOscar witness felt "attacked" 
Nel declares Oscar deceitful


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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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