Molefe Seeletsa

By Molefe Seeletsa

Digital Journalist

Suspects can’t afford R1k bail – Groenewald‘s overcrowding prison headache

Overcrowding in SA jails remained a problem.

Correctional Services Minister Pieter Groenewald has warned Parliament of a challenging road ahead due to budget cuts to his new portfolio.

Groenewald and officials from his department appeared before Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Correctional Services on Wednesday to present departmental budgets and annual performance plans.

Prison overcrowding

During the meeting, Groenewald painted a grim picture of the issues plaguing the Department of Correctional Services.

“There are many challenges facing the department [including] overcrowding, understaffing, the rundown facilities and infrastructure, scandals, corruption, fraud, ill-discipline and rampant gang activities in our facilities. We need to address these illnesses and problems we have,” he said on Wednesday.

The minister told Members of Parliament that addressing prison overcrowding will be his department’s main priority.

“The reduction of overcrowding, although complex, remains a high priority for the department.

“Yes, we are constrained by the budget cuts, however, we will inject some impetus into the delivery of infrastructure projects and find ways to complete at least 17 infrastructure projects in this 2024/2025 financial year. We do believe that this will go a long way in tackling overcrowding,” Groenewald continued.

He promised to play an active role in ensuring that the projects are completed without “corruption, exploitation, and on time.”

“We cannot allow that there is an escalation in costs because contractors do not comply with the deadlines. We will have to see that they comply with that,” said Groenewald.

ALSO READ: 97 of over 16 000 inmates released on special remission rearrested

Groenewald pointed out that some suspects remain behind bars because they cannot afford bail, contributing to the overcrowding in prisons.

“The entire criminal justice system has to work as a team in tackling the high number of remanded detainees awaiting trial and sentences in correctional facilities; and how do we deal with people remanded for petty offences and those that cannot afford bail of R1 000 or less. These are the priorities.”

The minister highlighted the importance of rehabilitation of convicts to ensure safer communities.

Correctional Services Deputy Minister Leonah Ntshalintshali, also placed emphasis on the effect of budget cuts on the department.

“If we suffer budget cuts, we cannot execute our task,” Ntshalintshali told the committee.

Watch the meeting below:

Last year, more than 15,000 inmates were released on special remission, including former president Jacob Zuma, to address overcrowding in prisons.

According to former Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola, the remission process reduced overcrowding by 15%.

President Cyril Ramaphosa had signed a special remission order, which allowed supposed non-violent offenders to be released.

Correctional Services budget

Groenewald further indicated the Department of Correctional Services has been allocated a total budget of R87.1 billion in the current financial year.

“The department’s expenditure is expected to increase at an average annual rate of 4.5% from R26.6 billion in 2023/2024 to R30.3 billion in 2026/2027.

“We are in difficult financial times and we will have to do more with less,” said Groenewald.

The minister stressed that “criminality and corruption within the department ends here”.

Meanwhile, Correctional Services national commissioner, Makgothi Samuel Thobakgale, revealed that suspects still awaiting trial were “just above 50 000”.

NOW READ: Groenewald plans visit to ‘Thabo Bester facility’ to meet private prison CEO

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