Prisoner with chronic illnesses loses bid to be released on 'Covid-19 parole'
A man sentenced to 25 years in jail for money laundering has failed in his bid to be released on parole as part of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s proclamation to release offenders to ease overcrowding in prisons during the Covid-19 lockdown.
In May, Ramaphosa announced that about 19,000 inmates would be released on parole as a measure to combat the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.
Inmates who qualified for the parole included those who were “low-risk” prisoners and those who were within five years of being released.
The man - identified as A Meyer - was sentenced to 25 years’ imprisonment for fraud, forgery, uttering and money laundering. He was sentenced on August 16 2017.
The court ordered that Meyer serve a non-parole detention period which expires on February 15 2029. He is also classified as a maximum-security offender.
He approached the Pretoria high court on an urgent basis asking it to declare that the president’s proclamation is “arbitrary, irrational and unconstitutional”. He asked the court to review and set aside the determination of the selected categories of the proclamation.
Meyer also asked that the wording “sentenced offenders who are at a high risk of death, owing to their medical conditions, and arising from the threat of contracting severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (Covid-19)” be added in the proclamation.
Meyer, who produced a medical certificate proving that he is a blood pressure and high cholesterol chronic patient, argued that the determination that those who are within five years of their eligibility for parole may apply for parole was arbitrary as it did not meet the self-confessed purpose of removing the elderly and those of ill health from the prison population to ensure their medical safety and to protect their lives.
He contended that the risk of contracting Covid-19 in prison was “extremely” high and the probability of death for those who were ill was also “exponentially” high.
He argued that he was a low-risk offender.
In dismissing his application, the court found that Meyer was wrong to argue that the president’s proclamation was arbitrary and irrational.
“This submission by the applicant is not correct. As mentioned above, the purpose of the proclamation was to reduce the prison population in order to lessen practical difficulties experienced by the DCS [department of correctional services] in their efforts to prevent, combat and generally manage the Covid-19 disease,” said judge Pierre Rabie.
Rabie found that the reduction of the prison population was not an arbitrary measure but one that was fully justified.
“The decision to identify sentenced offenders who are low-risk offenders and who have served the bulk of their sentences was, in my view, a reasonable and rational approach, and the manner in which it was done was not arbitrary or irrational,” the court found.