Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, has confirmed that 4 138 low-risk offenders have been released on parole to ease prison population figures in an effort to help with social distancing in correctional centres.
Speaking at the National Council of Provinces on Tuesday, Lamola said, “Yes, minimum progress has been made due to the processes to be followed when releasing sentenced offenders on parole. On 11 May 2020, the department began with the process to release selected low-risk offenders and initial releases started from 20 May 2020. As of 24 June 2020, the total number of offenders released was 4 138,”
This action comes after President Cyril Ramaphosa approved the parole of about 19 000 low-risk offenders in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19 in overcrowded prisons.
Responding to questions on Tueday, Lamola said prior to the releases, the total prison population stood at 154 943, with 101 928 being sentenced offenders, and 53 015 accounting for remand detainees and other unsentenced inmates.
“This translated to a total of 30.68% overpopulation, which made social distancing difficult.”
Lamola said out of the total, 329 were released in the Eastern Cape, 730 in Gauteng, 882 in KwaZulu-Natal, 565 in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West, 634 in the Free State and Northern Cape, while the remaining 998 came from the Western Cape.
Only low-risk offenders, who meet all the requirements and conditions, will be placed on parole. Plans have been put in place to integrate these inmates back into society.
“The requirement [is] that only offenders, who have undergone relevant rehabilitation programmes aimed at addressing their offending behaviour, would qualify for placement, as this would minimise the risk of re-offending. There are two additional requirements for placements on parole, including taking of fingerprints and DNA samples for comparison with the South African Police Services (SAPS) database as a prerequisite for placement.
Every qualifying sentenced offender’s profile will be assessed and considered individually by the Parole Board before they make their recommendations for placement on parole.
“Victims will be afforded the opportunity to make representations on why an offender should not be placed on parole,” said the Minister, adding that all the relevant factors will be taken into consideration during this process, which will include any prior convictions for violent offences committed.
As of 30 June, the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the Department of Correctional Services stood at 2 424, comprising 1 193 officials and 1 231 inmates, with 705 active cases.