A month after President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the parole of 19,000 inmates as a measure to combat the spread of Covid-19 in prisons, over 1,800 parolees have been released.
Department of Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo confirmed on Tuesday that a total of 1,894 parolees as of 10 June, have been placed out under the under Covid-19 parole dispensation.
“This figure is expected to increase sharply as a number of profiles are before the parole boards in the 46 management areas across the country,” Nxumalo added.
While 17,106 prisoners are still expected to be released on parole as per the Covid-19 parole dispensation, the department has reiterated that all parole placement processes will be followed as legislated, wherein the victims of crime will also be invited to make representations.
“This further relates to aspects of social reintegration where communities play an active role in the realisation of corrections as a societal responsibility.
“Communities must assist parolees to adapt and start living a normal life as law abiding citizens.”
Following the president’s announcement on 8 May, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola and Correctional Services Commissioner Arthur Fraser explained that only low-risk inmates who have already served their minimum sentence, or who would approach this period in the next five years, will be considered for release.
The only inmates that are eligible for release are those convicted and imprisoned for petty crimes. Fraser described it as crimes of need.
These types of crimes include shoplifting, theft and trespassing.
Lamola said that the most vulnerable of these offenders, such as those with underlying health problems, the elderly and female offenders with infants, will be prioritised to be released during the process.
Lamola also told the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services that more than 14,000 of the 19,000 inmates considered for release would have appeared before the parole board within the next two years.
Prisoners affected by this decision will not be pardoned or have their sentences remitted, instead, they will be placed on parole and will continue to serve their sentence under community corrections until they reach their respective sentence expiry dates.
Inmates servicing sentences for sexual offences, child abuse, murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, sedition, high treason, sabotage, terrorism, offenders sentenced to life imprisonment and those who had violated the Domestic Violence Act were excluded from the Covid-19 parole dispensation.
The decision to release offenders was made in line with measures to combat the spread of Covid-19 in correctional centres across the country.
Lamola said overcrowding in prisons presented a significant challenge in the fight against the spread of Covid-19, because the virus spread quicker in closed spaces.
“Another exacerbating factor is that some of the inmates already have compromised immune systems, as a result of chronic conditions.
“This makes them more vulnerable to Covid-19 and it can have a catastrophic effect to inmates, officials, communities around correctional centres, as well as the broader public.”
As of 8 June, the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in prisons across the country was 1,128, with 461 officials and 667 inmates testing positive for the virus.