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World & Nation

Oscar Pistorius begins first day in hospital wing of prison

More than 20 months after he shot his girlfriend to death, South African double amputee athlete Oscar Pistorius spent his first full day in prison Wednesday with eight cellmates, all of them disabled.

There are two blind men, another amputee with a prosthetic limb, and five men in wheelchairs, Department of Correctional Services spokesman Manelisi Wolela said in a statement.

In court, Pistorius’ advocate, Barry Roux, had argued the athlete should be spared prison because of his vulnerability and disability. However, Judge Thokozile Masipa found that accommodating Pistorius did not present an insurmountable challenge to prison authorities.

Pistorius, sentenced to five years for the negligent killing of Reeva Steenkamp, is in the Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria, with a population of more than 7,200 offenders. But he is being housed in a separate hospital wing with disabled offenders and has his own cell.

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The hospital wing has railings in the showers so that disabled inmates can balance, as well as a gym. Two nurses and two prison guards are on duty and there is 24-hour observation of prisoners.

Pistorius seemed tense, tired and confused when he arrived Tuesday for processing, prison commissioner Zebilon Monama told the South African Press Assn. He was searched, fingerprinted, a computer record was created and he was given a prison number, an orange prison suit and a medical examination.

“He is deurmekaar, as they say in Afrikaans,” Monama said, using the word for confused. “After he saw the chaplain, our psychologist went to see him, just to try to talk to him.” The prison is conducting a 36-hour assessment of Pistorius’ psychological, physical and rehabilitation needs and has to prepare a report within three weeks.

Ofentse Morwane, a Department of Correctional Services spokesman, said the admission and orientation procedure took six hours. He said Pistorius appeared to be coping.

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Prison meals are provided by an outside contractor.

South African prisoners are expected to take part in certain compulsory programs, and a prisoner’s willing participation is assessed when the department makes decisions on parole or transfers of prisoners into house arrest. Pistorius will be eligible to apply to serve out the remainder of his sentence at home after 10 months in prison.

Steenkamp’s parents, Barry and June, gave interviews to several media outlets, including the British magazine Hello.

“We’re not looking for vengeance or for him to get hurt; we’re just happy because he’s going to be punished for what he’s done,” June Steenkamp told the magazine.

But she told the Daily Telegraph she did believe her daughter’s Whats App messages to Pistorius, read out in court, that she was scared of him. June Steenkamp did not believe Pistorius’ story about what happened the night of the killing.

“She described exactly how she felt and that he wasn’t treating her properly, he was always irritable with her and snapped quickly, so that’s why we feel that it is not actually what happened,” she said. “There’s more to the whole story than everybody knows; only Oscar knows.”

During the trial, Roux aired allegations that a prison gang leader had threatened to kill Pistorius if he was given special treatment in jail. The claims were made in South African media.

Another correctional services spokesman, Mthunzi Mhaga, told South African television that no special security measures had been taken to protect Pistorius in prison because it hadn’t been established that he faced a threat.

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“We have not formally received or established those threats. It had been something that was reported in the media, but through our officials at the center, we have not been made aware of that.

“There are measures in place to deal with any eventuality or incident [that may] compromise the lives of all inmates in our correctional center. There could not be special measures until such time that the event or threats have been assessed by our members.”

According to Wolela, the South African prison system houses on average 128 disabled prisoners in a year amid a population of about 157,000 inmates.

Follow @robyndixon_LAT on Twitter for news out of Africa


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