By: Collen T Ndobo
Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola, on Friday 08 May, announced that low-risk offenders who may have committed petty crimes will be considered for parole by the various parole boards.
This is after President Cyril Ramaphosa authorized the placement on parole of selected categories of sentenced offenders as a measure to combat the spread of Covid-19 in correctional facilities, which are considered high-risk areas for infection.
In a statement by the Presidency on Friday May 8, this decision is in response to a call by the United Nations for all countries to reduce prison population so that social distancing and self-isolation conditions can be observed during this period.
“In South Africa, as in many other countries, correctional facilities have witnessed outbreaks of coronavirus infections among inmates and personnel”, the statement said.
A number of countries across the world have already heeded the call by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and have released a number of offenders in detention. The Presidency said that Ramaphosa has made the decision in terms of Section 82(1)(a) of the Correctional Services Act of 1998 which empowers the President to authorize at any time the placement on correctional supervision or parole of any sentenced prisoner, a subject to conditions that may be recommended by the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board.
“This dispensation excludes inmates sentenced to life imprisonment or serving terms for Specified other serious crimes, including sexual offences, murder and attempted, gender based violence and child abuse”, said the Presidency. According to Lamola, once completed, this process is expected to reduce overcrowding by 12, 15%, should those considered for parole by the boards be granted parole.
However, the society expressed their concerns towards releasing the offenders before their sentence expiry dates. The minister said the parole is conditional and should the parolees display behavior that is in conflict with the law and erodes public confidence on their rehabilitation, the department will not hesitate to revoke the parole and incarcerate the parolees.
“Placement on parole will be a decision of the parole boards, the President‘s decision only allows these low risk offenders to be considered for parole by the parole boards. It will be done in phases and the most vulnerable, such as those with underlying health problems, elderly (aged above 60 years) and female offenders with infants, will be prioritized.” Lamola added.
The minister further clarified that Janusz Walus, one of the killers of struggle stalwart, Chris Hani and convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius will not be eligible for the parole.
Lamola said that correctional centers walls do not prevent the spread of Covid-19. He added that it is also likely that infections from the centers could be transmitted into communities as officials regularly interact with their loved ones and offenders interchangeably.
As of 07 May 2020, the Justice and Correctional Services department has recorded 172 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Correctional Services and 95 officials have been affected by the virus.