President Cyril Ramaphosa is still considering the release of 19,000 prisoners amid the coronavirus pandemic.
So says Deputy Justice Minister Patekile Holomisa, who was addressing a virtual meeting of the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services and select committee on security and justice on Wednesday.
MPs had asked him about the release of the prisoners, which was mooted earlier.
“That is a matter that is still being considered by the president,” Holomisa said, adding the department had presented its plan to Ramaphosa.
“So, we are not in a position to pronounce on what the details are.”
Earlier, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola told the committees physical distancing was not practical at correctional centres.
He said even if 30% of the prison population were released, there would still be challenges.
Last week, Justice Edwin Cameron, the inspecting judge of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS), and several organisations wrote a letter to Lamola, requesting the release of some prisoners to alleviate overcrowding in prisons and curb the spread of Covid-19.
To curb its spread, the signatories suggested a “carefully, targeted, selective release” of inmates.
These included those over the age of 60, frail, sick and terminally ill prisoners, petty and non-violent offenders – including those jailed for non-violent drug-related offences – prisoners with less than one year of their sentence remaining, those approaching their parole date, inmates imprisoned with the option of paying a fine, and foreign nationals detained on immigration-related charges.
On Monday, Eyewitness News reported Ramaphosa would announce the release of the prisoners after the department had done the necessary work, but it never materialised.