Open Access Open Badges Research

Rapid Assessment Response (RAR) study: drug use, health and systemic risks—Emthonjeni Correctional Centre, Pretoria, South Africa

Monika ML dos Santos1*, Franz Trautmann2, Gustaaf Wolvaardt3 and Romeo Palakatsela1

Author Affiliations

1 Psychology Department, University of South Africa, P.O. Box 392, UNISA, Pretoria 0004, South Africa

2 International Affairs, P.O. Box 725, NL-3521 VS, Utrecht Trimbos Institute 3500, The Netherlands

3 Foundation for Professional Development, P.O. Box 75324, Lynnwood Ridge, Pretoria 0040, South Africa

For all author emails, please log on.

Harm Reduction Journal 2014, 11:11  doi:10.1186/1477-7517-11-11

Published: 3 April 2014



Correctional centre populations are one of the populations most at risk of contracting HIV infection for many reasons, such as unprotected sex, violence, rape and tattooing with contaminated equipment. Specific data on drug users in correctional centres is not available for the majority of countries, including South Africa. The study aimed to identify the attitudes and knowledge of key informant (KI) offender and correctional centre staff regarding drug use, health and systemic-related problems so as to facilitate the long-term planning of activities in the field of drug-use prevention and systems strengthening in correctional centres, including suggestions for the development of appropriate intervention and rehabilitation programmes.


A Rapid Assessment Response (RAR) methodology was adopted which included observation, mapping of service providers (SP), KI interviews (staff and offenders) and focus groups (FGs). The study was implemented in Emthonjeni Youth Correctional Centre, Pretoria, South Africa. Fifteen KI staff participants were interviewed and 45 KI offenders.


Drug use is fairly prevalent in the centre, with tobacco most commonly smoked, followed by cannabis and heroin. The banning of tobacco has also led to black-market features such as transactional sex, violence, gangsterism and smuggling in order to obtain mainly prohibited tobacco products, as well as illicit substances.


HIV, health and systemic-related risk reduction within the Correctional Service sector needs to focus on measures such as improvement of staff capacity and security measures, deregulation of tobacco products and the development and implementation of comprehensive health promotion programmes.

Correctional Services; Drug use; Infectious diseases; Health promotion; Harm reduction; South Africa