Increase in number of 'lifers' keeps jail system topped up

13 February 2017 - 09:09 By BONGANI MTHETHWA
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

South Africa's prisons are fast filling up with "lifers", most of them sentenced to time behind bars for murder, violent robbery and rape.

According to the Department of Correctional Services, there is an increase in the number of people being sentenced to life in prison for these heinous crimes.

Department spokesman Logan Maistry said: "January 2017 alone recorded a total of 19 lifers. This is a matter that requires attention."

Maistry was responding to questions linked to legal action taken by Westville prison inmate Erwin Christmas and 10 others, all of whom were sentenced to life imprisonment in Durban's Medium B section.

They are challenging Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha for not granting them parole.

Christmas, who has spent 15 years behind bars for killing Anthony Hofert in 2001, believes he should have been considered for parole in November 2014.

He alleges Masutha unlawfully postponed or delayed his parole because he doesn't want to lose the "biggest milking cows".

In his affidavit, Christmas said lifers were deliberately held back from parole because a budget was drawn up for prisons for the care and maintenance of convicts with life sentences.

"Lifers remain invaluable because of their lengthy sentences and countless unlawful prerequisites placed on them for parole.

"A huge percentage of that budget never trickles down to the inmate it was originally intended for."

However, the department said offenders serving life cost the state the same amount as other inmates.

Maistry confirmed the department was aware of the case brought by the 11 prisoners but could not respond to the allegations as the matter was before the court.

However, he said parole was not a right but a privilege subject to conditions an offender must comply with.

"Parole does not reduce the sentence imposed by the courts. It only affects the way in which a sentence will be served, which means the remainder of the sentence may be served outside a correctional centre," he said.