Picture: 123RF/ALLAN SWART
Picture: 123RF/ALLAN SWART

Thousands of prisoners in SA are set to be released on parole in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country’s overpopulated prisons.

The presidency announced on Friday that President Cyril Ramaphosa has authorised placing selected categories of sentenced offenders on parole as a “measure to combat the spread of Covid-19 in correctional facilities, which are considered high-risk areas for infection”. 

According to the statement, the decision was taken in terms of the Correctional Services Act, which empowers the president at any time to authorise the placement on correctional supervision or parole of any sentenced prisoner, subject to conditions that may be recommended by the correctional supervision and parole board.

“The decision taken by the president could relieve our correctional services facilities of just under 19,000 inmates out of a population of 155,000,” the presidency said.

The step was taken in response to a call from the UN to all countries to reduce prison populations so that social-distancing and self-isolation can be observed during the pandemic.

Strict lockdowns have been imposed around the world in a bid to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus. Being able to physically distance yourself from other people is a critical part of the measures used to control its spread.

By Thursday, the number of officials and offenders who had tested positive in SA prisons was 172.

The move by SA to release offenders is not the first seen globally, and has taken place in countries such as Iran.

The presidency said the parole dispensation would apply to low-risk inmates who have passed their minimum detention period or will approach it in the coming five years.

“This dispensation excludes inmates sentenced to life imprisonment or serving terms for specified other serious crimes, including sexual offences, murder and attempted murder, gender-based violence and child abuse,” the presidency said.

According to the statement, inmates affected by this decision will be placed on parole instead of having their sentences remitted, and offenders may be arrested and re-incarcerated if they violate their release conditions.

The presidency said the placement of qualifying offenders would take place over a 10-week period and would commence as soon as all parole board processes have been finalised, and rehabilitation and pre-release programmes have been attended.

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