19,000 more prisoners will be paroled to ease jail overcrowding
Just under 19,000 inmates out of a population of 155,000 will be placed on parole as a measure to combat the spread of Covid-19 in correctional facilities, which are considered high-risk areas for infection.
President Cyril Ramaphosa's office made the announcement on Friday.
The parole dispensation will apply to low-risk inmates who have passed their minimum detention period or will approach this period in the coming five years.
It excludes inmates sentenced to life imprisonment or serving terms for serious crimes, including sexual offences, murder and attempted murder, gender-based violence and child abuse.
“The president has taken this decision in terms of Section 82(1)(a) of the Correctional Services Act of 1998, which empowers the president to authorise at any time the placement on correctional supervision or parole of any sentenced prisoner, subject to conditions that may be recommended by the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board,” a presidency statement read.
Correctional services minister Ronald Lamola was expected to provide more details at a media briefing scheduled for 1.30pm on Friday.
The presidency said placement of qualifying sentenced offenders on parole would take place over 10 weeks. It will commence as soon as all parole board processes have been finalised.
“Inmates who will be affected by this decision will be placed on parole instead of having their sentences remitted. They will therefore continue to serve their sentence under community corrections until they reach their respective sentence expiry dates,” the presidency said.
“Offenders may be arrested and ultimately reincarcerated if they violate their release conditions.”
The presidency said this move was taken in response to a call by the United Nations to all countries to reduce prison populations so social distancing and self-isolation conditions could be observed.
Two prisoners have died as a result of the coronavirus in SA’s prisons, the department of correctional services said. A total of 172 inmates and prison workers across the country had tested positive for the virus.
In December, Ramaphosa announced a decision to remit the sentence expiry dates of specific categories of sentenced offenders, probationers and parolees across all correction facilities in SA.
Lamola explained at the time that about 51,063 criminal offenders out of SA's total 233,945 offenders would be granted special remission. This included almost 85% of probationers not in correctional facilities, half of all parolees already reintroduced back to communities, half the total community correction population and about 9% of the country’s total inmate population.
Addressing the portfolio committee on police and select committee on security and justice on Friday, police minister Bheki Cele said the SA Police Service would be collaborating with the department of correctional services to keep an eye on offenders.
He said offenders' DNA samples would be collected and banked prior to their release.
“If they offend again, it will be easy to trace them,” he said.