Prison term will 'break' Pistorius, says defence witness

This article is more than 12 months old

Double amputee Oscar Pistorius will be highly vulnerable in South Africa’s brutal jails, his disability elevating the risk of poor hygiene and even gang rape, a defence witness claimed on Tuesday (Oct 14).

Parole officer Annette Vergeer warned that prison would "break" the Paralympian star athlete, as his legal team mounted a fierce last-ditch battle to keep him from going to jail for manslaughter over the killing of his girlfriend last year.

"Without legs he will be vulnerable and a lot more vulnerable than the normal man," said Ms Vergeer, who was paid for her work for the defence.

"I've recently done a case for rape within the prison, gang rape, how can we say that he won’t be exposed to that?" she said, adding that washing his stumps may also be a problem.

The double-amputee track star escaped a murder conviction in a verdict that shocked the country last month. PHOTO: AFP

Pistorius was found guilty last month of culpable homicide over the killing of 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year, but acquitted of murder.

His sentencing hearing began at a Pretoria court on Monday (Oct 13) and is expected to run for the much of the week, with witnesses being called in his defence and by prosecutors demanding he serves time in jail.

Judge Thokozile Masipa will likely make her decision on Friday (Oct 17), a state source told AFP.

Ms Vergeer argued for a three year non-custodial sentence, claiming prison "will only have a negative impact and in fact place him in danger. It will not assist him, it will break him."

Another defence witness on Monday suggested Pistorius clean a museum for 16 hours a week as punishment, drawing a furious reaction from state lawyers.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel described the suggestion as "shockingly inappropriate".

Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius speaks to lawyer Brian Webber before his sentencing hearing at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. PHOTO: Reuters

There is no mandatory sentence for culpable homicide in South Africa, and Judge Masipa could give Pistorius anything from a suspended sentence to 15 years in jail.

South Africa's department of correctional services has said that Pistorius could be entitled to separate accommodation "depending on the vulnerability caused by the disability".

"Each case is based on its own merits" they said in a recent statement.

But there is little doubt that the prison system in South Africa is in a bad state, with violence, overcrowding and recidivism apparently endemic.

According to non-governmental group NICRO, South Africa’s prison population is 137 per cent of capacity. Those in jail for violent or sexual offences make up around 70 per cent of the inmate population.

Source: AFP

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