A total of 2 669 sentenced prisoners died while in captivity in the past four years, the Department of Correctional Services has revealed.
Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour said that in the 2003/4 financial year, 1 313 prisoners died, while 1 356 died in the 2004/5 financial year.
The majority of the deceased were men, with a total of 2 626 dying behind bars, in comparison to the 43 females who died in jail.
However, the department could not provide the reasons for each death, saying its health information system was not aligned with the international classification of disease codes and the requirements of the National Health Information System of South Africa.
This process of alignment was still under way, it said.
Balfour said postmortems were not conducted on deaths from natural causes except in cases where there were doubts about the cause.
"In all deaths due to non-natural causes, the forensic pathologist may order that a postmortem be conducted based on the SAPS investigation and findings."
At the end of December last year, SA had more than 157 000 prisoners. Of these, around 46 000 were awaiting trial and over 111 000 were serving sentences. Accommodation for both awaiting-trial and sentenced prisoners was just over 111
By Wendy Jasson da Costa The Star