Up to 19,000 “low-risk” inmates could walk free over the next several weeks as part of the government’s bid to curb the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa’s correctional facilities.
In a statement on Friday, the Presidency said President Cyril Ramaphosa had authorised the placement of “selected categories of sentenced offenders” on parole.
“The President has taken this step in response to a call by the United Nations to all countries to reduce prison populations so that social distancing and self-isolation conditions can be observed during this period,” the Presidency said.
165 inmates test positive
On Wednesday, the Department of Correctional Services said a total of 165 inmates had tested positive for the virus across the country’s prisons. 60 had recovered, but two had lost their lives.
Eastern Cape (65) and Western Cape (52) had the highest number of positive inmates. 35 prison officials had also tested positive in the Eastern Cape.
The Presidency said, “The decision taken by the President to combat the spread of COVID-19 in correctional centres could relieve our correctional services facilities of just under 19,000 inmates out of a population of 155,000.
“The parole dispensation will apply to low-risk inmates who have passed their minimum detention period or will approach this period in the coming five years.”
Sentences ‘will not be remitted’
The dispensation excludes inmates sentenced to life imprisonment or serving terms for specified serious crimes, the Presidency added.
It further explained, “Inmates that will be affected by this decision will be placed on parole instead of having their sentences remitted. They will therefore continue to serve their sentence under Community Corrections until they reach their respective sentence expiry dates.
“Offenders may be arrested and ultimately reincarcerated if they violate their release conditions.
“The placement of qualifying sentenced offenders will take place over a 10-week period and will commence as soon as all Parole Board processes have been flnalised and all relevant rehabilitation and pre-release programmes are attended.”
Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola was set to provide further details about the dispensation in a media briefing later on Friday.
As of Thursday, South Africa had a total of 8,232 confirmed cases of COVID-19 after 292,153 tests. 161 of them had lost their lives while 3,153 had recovered.