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Oscar Pistorius sentenced for killing girlfriend

 (CNN) -- Oscar Pistorius began a new life behind bars Tuesday after he was sentenced to a maximum five years' imprisonment for culpable homicide in the death of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

Under South African law, the country's most famous disabled athlete will have to serve at least one-sixth of his sentence -- 10 months -- before he can ask for it to be converted to community supervision instead, most likely under house arrest.

Following the closing of his sentencing hearing, the athlete was transferred to the Kgosi Mampuru II prison in Pretoria. There, dressed in the standard-issue orange jumpsuit, Pistorius was placed in a cell for one person in the hospital section of the prison. The cell has has a bed, toilet, blanket, sheets, prison-issued toothpaste and toilet paper, said prison commissioner Zedilon Monama.

As is routine for all prisoners, he saw a nurse, psychologist and chaplain, Monama explained. Pistorius is a \"B\" group inmate, which means he's only allowed two no-contact visits on weekends, with a limit of 45 visits per year.

If he behaves, after six months, he could be allowed to join group \"A\" and get 60 visits a year, Monama said, and enjoy special perks like chocolate and Coca Cola.

A double amputee, Pistorius needs prosthetic limbs to get around. And rights campaigners had warned during the sentencing phase of his trial that South African prisons -- which they say are notorious for overcrowding, gang violence and unsanitary conditions -- are often a difficult environment even for the fittest of inmates.

But handing down the sentence, Judge Thokozile Masipa said she did not believe that Pistorius, despite his disabilities, would present the prison system with an \"insurmountable challenge.\"

Nooshin Erfani-Ghadimi, project coordinator for the Johannesburg-based Wits Justice Project, a civil society group, said before the sentencing that she believed Pistorius would probably receive far better treatment than the average prisoner -- as he has throughout the judicial process, she says.

Even so, she told CNN, \"I don't think anyone with a disability necessarily will be able to be provided for at the moment in a way that ensures that they would have the correct medical treatment, that they have the correct physical structures.\"

Some of South Africa's prisons are better than others, of course.

But there's no question that the conditions are a far cry from those in the $560,000 home in the luxury Silver Woods Estate, on the outskirts of Pretoria, where he shot Steenkamp dead last year.

Corrections chief: Prisons can meet his needs

South Africa's department of correctional services has policies in place for dealing with physically disabled inmates, Erfani-Ghadimi said.

\"Policy and practice, however, are often poles apart. Unfortunately, prisoners with disabilities face the same inhumane conditions as other able-bodied inmates.\"

Acting National Commissioner of Correctional Services Zach Modise, testifying last week at Pistorius' sentencing hearing, painted a different picture.

He insisted that South Africa's prison system was able to meet Pistorius' needs as a disabled prisoner, saying it is used to taking in all kinds of prisoners, including juveniles and the elderly.

The prison system deals with 128 disabled inmates on a daily basis, he said, and has the appropriate facilities.

He insisted that the hospital section of Kgosi Mampuru II, formerly known as Pretoria Central Prison, had single cells and the facilities to accommodate his needs.

\"There should be no doubt in the minds of South Africans that Mr. Pistorius and any other inmate with disabilities will be accommodated properly,\" he said.

In her final arguments, Masipa said Modise had acknowledged the system was not perfect but that it appeared to be making progress.

She also said there was no reason to think that Pistorius would not get the physical treatment and support for trauma and depression that he needs.

His need for a small bench to help him shower safely could be met by the prison system, she said.

Masipa dismissed testimony from a defense witness who said that Pistorius would be too vulnerable in prison as sketchy and based on outdated information.

\"I have no doubt that if prisons in this country were below the required standard, the ever-vigilant human rights bodies in this country would not hesitate to take the necessary steps to remedy the situation,\" she added.

Medical care overstretched

In his testimony before Pistorius was sentenced, the athlete's defense attorney Barry Roux noted there is only one doctor based at Kgosi Mampuru for roughly 7,000 prisoners. He also argued that keeping Pistorius in a hospital wing would expose him to other illnesses, like tuberculosis.

Prison rights campaigners insist that overcrowding is a major concern throughout the system. According to Erfani-Ghadimi, it's an issue that puts a strain on sanitation, ventilation and medical care.

The overcrowding means three men may share a single cell, or communal cells for 40 people are jammed with double the number they were intended to hold, with men sleeping in double or triple bunks, according to the Wits Justice Project.

One of the biggest risks associated with that is contracting tuberculosis, labeled the biggest killer in South Africa's prisons in a recent report, Erfani-Ghadimi said. The disease spreads easily in packed, steamy cells with little fresh air.

In some prisons, overstretched nurses can never see all the people needing help on any day, she said. Inconsistent treatment regimens mean drug-resistant TB strains develop and spread, while disruptions to antiretroviral programs also affect detainees who are HIV-positive.

\"Also in terms of health management we've seen stories of people who are diabetic and have gone into insulin shock because they've been arrested and haven't been able to get to their medication,\" Erfani-Ghadimi said.

Overcrowding is an issue across the prison system, Modise acknowledged, but has been reduced from a rate of 63% in 2005 to 31% today.

He said that prisoners are sent to health facilities outside detention centers, if necessary, and that they can also pay for private doctors to come into the prison to see them.

Asked about the problems of gangs and violence in prisons, Modise said that more needs to be done to eradicate gangs outside the prison system and that within the system, authorities are dealing with the issue.

Speaking earlier this year, Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said that \"overcrowding at correctional facilities is a global challenge\" and that South Africa's prison population had dropped over the past decade.

As of April of this year, there were about 157,400 inmates, of whom nearly 28% were on remand -- a term used for pretrial custody -- according to official figures. The country's total population is about 54 million.

Double-edged sword

There's no doubt that Pistorius' case has put South Africa's justice system under the international spotlight.

While the scrutiny may have been uncomfortable at times for South African authorities, it appears to have worked in the track star's favor until now.

When he was first detained after Steenkamp's killing, the African National Congress Women's League complained that he got special treatment, both in where he was held and in access to his family.

Some impoverished suspects who can't afford a lawyer or bail spend months or even years waiting for their cases just to come to court. But Pistorius was released on bail with relaxed conditions, and his trial began little more than a year after Steenkamp's death on February 14, 2013.

Erfani-Ghadimi describes his progress through the legal system as \"an anomaly\" in terms of both speed and the expert resources dedicated to it.

\"Other cases normally take much longer, and both the victims and the accused face the strong probability of a miscarriage of justice,\" she wrote in a piece published on The Conversation website.

However, when it comes to serving time in prison, the athlete's fame -- and the extra attention that goes with it -- could be a double-edged sword when it comes to getting special privileges, she told CNN.

\"A lot of people are able to subvert (the system) and pay bribes and get away with things, but he hasn't been able to,\" she said. \"But on the other hand, he has been able to get advantages that other people haven't.\"

'Living here is very hard'

Some of these differences may be stark.

The Wits Justice Project has highlighted the case of paraplegic inmate Ronnie Fakude, held on remand for 28 months before being freed on bail this year with an electronic tag, in a pilot monitoring project.

Before his release, he described his experience to Carolyn Raphaely, a senior journalist with the project.

\"I'm a 50-year-old paraplegic and have been awaiting trial for more than two years since my arrest on fraud charges in December 2011. I can't walk, I can't control my bowel or bladder and have to wear disposable baby nappies which my family buy for me. I'm paralyzed from level four and don't have a wheelchair,\" he said, according to the project.

\"If I use my (crutches) I have to pull my legs and throw them to the front. That's how I walk. Living here is very hard. We are 88 men in this cell which is meant for 32. Sometimes there are more. Twelve people sleep in two bunks pushed together, that's six on the top and six on the bottom. I have my own bed on the bottom, which is a privilege. Luckily, I don't have to share because of my medical status.

\"There are eight or 10 people with TB in this cell and four or five we know are HIV-positive. A guy with multi-drug resistant TB sleeps on top of me. I feel vulnerable all the time.\"

Erfani-Ghadimi argues that as a severely disabled man, Fakude should never have been in detention at all. And if she had her way, the same would be true for Pistorius.

For his part, speaking to CNN's Robyn Curnow in the last few weeks before the sentencing, Pistorius said he would respect and accept the decision of the court and that he was not afraid of imprisonment.

He said he hoped to contribute while in prison by teaching people how to read or start a gym or running club.



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