A total of 19 000 inmates across the country will be able to apply for the Covid-19 parole dispensation subject to conditions.
THE DEPARTMENT of Justice and Correctional Services was not able to confirm on Friday if former ANC provincial chairperson John Block, who is currently detained at Upington Correctional Services Centre, will also be considered for early parole.
A total of 19 000 inmates across the country will be able to apply for the Covid-19 parole dispensation, subject to conditions set by the correctional supervision and parole board, in order to alleviate overcrowding and prevent coronavirus infections.
The Northern Cape and Free State provinces currently have the lowest overcrowding rate of 0.45 percent.
Block started serving his 15 year sentence in 2018, after he was convicted of corruption and money laundering in 2016.
The Minister of Justice, Ronald Lamola, stated during a press briefing on Friday that both paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, who was sentenced for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp, and Janusz Walus, who was convicted for the murder of Chris Hani, would not be eligible for parole.
According to Lamola, there were no confirmed cases of either inmates or offenders testing positive for Covid-19 in the Northern Cape as of May 7.
“The ideal situation is to have facilities at an occupancy rate of 70 percent to fight the Covid-19 virus.
“Anyone across the country who qualifies, including offenders in the Northern Cape, with a low overcrowding rate, will be eligible for parole. This will give us space to practice social and physical distancing. We will also look at transferring inmates from some of the big centres to areas where protocols have been followed.”
Lamola pointed out that offenders would not automatically be granted parole.
“Applications will be processed by parole boards on a case by case basis, in the interest of justice and society. Victims of crime will also participate in the process. We will have to devise means of completing the process electronically because we will not be able to hold hearings, like we normally do.”
Lamola stated that they would not hesitate to revoke parole of any offender who violated their conditions.
He added that while parolees were compelled to complete community service, these activities would have to take place within the confines of the Covid-19 regulations.
“Inmates, who are serving sentences for sexual offences, child abuse, murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, sedition, high treason, sabotage, terrorism, offenders declared as dangerous by the court, offenders sentenced to life imprisonment, violations under the Domestic Violence Act, any escaped/absconded inmate who evaded the justice system after being released on bail pending appearance and was still at large on 16 December 2019 and those certified as mentally ill and detained, are excluded from the Covid-19 parole dispensation.”
He said preference would be given to non-violent offenders with underlying illness and compromised immune systems, those over the age of 60 years and women with infants as well as low risk qualifying sentenced offenders who would have completed their minimum detention periods within five years.
“The process will also include a comprehensive screening process for inmates including taking of fingerprints and DNA samples by the South African Police Services along with inputs from departmental social workers and criminologists, which is a critical criteria for placement on parole.”
Lamola explained that the dispensation would bring the parole date forward.
“It does not alter the sentence that inmates received. All the inmates placed on community corrections are expected to abide by conditions that parole boards will impose upon them.”
He indicated that the process was expected to reduce overcrowding by 12 to 15 percent.
“We are confronted however, with the glaring impossibility of maintaining physical distancing in our centres due to overcrowding.”
“We still have a high percentage of overcrowding which currently stands at 32.58 percent as of May 4. We have a total of 157 208 inmates, whereas our accommodation capacity is 118 572. This number includes a total of 56 536 inmates who are in remand detention. This means our accommodation capacity is exceeded by 38 636 inmates.”
He said the Eastern Cape had the highest prevalence of overcrowding at 54.88 percent followed by Gauteng at 52.10 percent.
“Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West region stands at 39.18 percent. The Western Cape stands at 29.08 percent, KwaZulu-Natal stands at 25.97 percent and the Free State and Northern Cape region is at 0.45 percent.”
Lamola added that the virus spread quickly in closed spaces.
“Inmates with compromised immune systems, as a result of chronic conditions are more vulnerable to Covid-19.
“Correctional centre walls do not prevent the spread of Covid-19. It is also likely that infections in our centres can be transmitted from our centres into society at large as officials regularly interact with their loved ones in their communities and offenders interchangeably. This could occur despite the fact that we are operating under a contagious disease protocol. The World Health Organization acknowledges that an outbreak of Covid-19 in prisons threatens people outside prisons.”
He added that St Albans Medium A in the Eastern Cape had an occupancy level of 238 percent and Johannesburg Medium A in Gauteng had an occupancy rate of 251 percent.
“Kgosi Mampuru in Gauteng, has occupancy level of 176 percent, Pollsmoor Medium B in the Western Cape has a occupancy level of 218 percent and Durban Medium A in Kwa-Zulu Natal has occupancy level of 164 percent.”
Lamola indicated that they were considering interventions for 5 000 inmates who were detained as they were unable to apply for bail.
“We are not oblivious to the concerns of society towards releasing offenders before their sentence expiry dates. This measure is aimed at protecting the entire spectrum of South Africa from the Covid-19 pandemic. We cannot afford to falter, and we must flatten the curve and preserve lives.”