MPs from across the political divide criticised the parole board system on Friday.
The Department of Correctional Services briefed the sub-committee of the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on the parole system.
The system had been under scrutiny after the murder of eight-year-old Tazne van Wyk, allegedly at the hands of parolee Moyhdian Pangarker, whose criminal record dates back to the 1980s.
Chief deputy commissioner Joseph Katenga said they had been “operationally slow” in catching up with the transition from a prisons system to a correctional services system. As a result, officers trained for security functions were performing tasks requiring specialised skills, including those making recommendations to parole boards.
DA MP James Selfe said this meant non-professional people were doing evaluations of “extremely violent, maladjusted people”, while parole boards’ members were selected on their standing in the community.
“You have amateurs relying on amateurs to decide whether people should be released on parole,” Selfe said.
Selfe also referred to the recent incident where the victim of rapist Bob Hewitt was not notified that he was up for parole.
Hewitt was due to be released last September but, when the women’s lawyers found out it was being done without their input, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola ordered a review and the former tennis champion had to stay behind bars. His parole hearing will now be on 24 March.
“I really don’t believe that every victim of every crime is consulted before parole hearings,” Selfe said.
An official from the department confirmed that they did not reach out to every victim, and that it was sometimes difficult to trace the victims.
ANC MP Jacqueline Mofokeng said it was she who called Lamola on the Hewitt matter, after the victim had contacted her.
She said it appeared that people with social standing and money “always get out”.
“This must stop,” she said.
Referring to the case of Pangarker, who absconded while on parole a year ago, ANC MP Hishaam Mohamed asked whether there was a protocol when a prisoner absconded.
Arthur Fraser, the commissioner of Correctional Services, said he had issued a directive that all parolees who absconded had to report to the department’s head office within 24 hours, so that they could engage with the police.
Mofokeng said Lamola’s review of the parole system was very important.
Fraser said they would have to come back to the committee and report back on the review of the parole system.
He said that within the next three weeks Lamola would ask Judge Siraj Desai to convene a symposium on the parole system.
Sub-committee chairperson Richard Dyantyi said there was a definite need for the department to come back to the committee. He said many of their issues were systemic.
“We want a very clear road map for the parole review,” Dyantyi said.