Correctional health and welfare: Religious and cultural issues after death


Inmates who die are kept in the prison morgue. If the death was an unnatural death, then the SAP/ Department of Correctional Services must investigate the circumstances under which the inmate died. The inmate must go to the government forensic pathology services for an autopsy by a forensic pathologist. The body may not be cremated because there may be a need in future for a second-look autopsy in case new evidence comes to light and the case gets re-opened

If the death was of natural causes the prison doctor registers the death of the inmate as such. It is still within the Department of Correctional Services’ jurisdiction to require an forensic pathologist’s autopsy report, irrespective of the prison doctor’s classification of unatural and natural cause if death

Inmate bodies are post-mortem not used for organ donation.

Important cultural aspects to keep in mind

CHRISTIANS: Although burial and cremation is generally condoned by Christians, the state may refuse that the body of a deceased inmate gets cremated in case a future claim arises that the death was unnatural or that allegations of in-peison murder or torture comes up

HINDUS: they oppose post-morrems but they will have to comply if the Department of Correctionsl Services require a forensic post-mortem

JEWS: there are traditional observations that have to take place when a person dies such as someone sitting with the body till the body is  buried. Special arrangements can be made by the prison authorities for such ceremonies. Gloves must be worn by the persons touching the body. The wearing of gloves is generally not a problem as health care staff and undertakers automatically wear gloves when handling the deceased as part of Universal Safety Precautions policies

MUSLIMS: Islamic law states that the body may not be touched by a non-Muslim. This would not always be possible in the prison environment. Gloves must be worn by the person touching the body which is geneeally not a problem. The deceased must be buried within 24 hours. This is not possible in the prison environment due to the delay of procedural protocols. Although Muslims are unwilling for autopsies to be performed, the families generally do not have the power to refuse post-mortem of an inmate if the Department of Correctional Services require such a forensic investigation

SIKHS believe in reincarnation and object to post-mortems. The Department of Correctional Services has the power to override their wishes. Sikhs also insist on cremations and not burial of the deceased. The Department of Correctional Services has the power to override such custom if the option of a second-look autopsy is important to state security and institutional integrity