It’s been six weeks since President Cyril Ramaphosa said 19 000 prisoners would be freed to curb Covid-19 spread in jails, but so far there has been only a trickle of releases from Goodwood prison and other detention facilities.
Department of Correctional Services (DCS) regional spokeswoman Mosele Sehloho said 109 Goodwood prison inmates qualified for the Covid-19 early parole, but only 39 of them had been released so far. According to her, Goodwood prison is 121% overcrowded. It has 2 115 beds but 2 565 prisoners (2 132 remand detainees and 433 sentenced offenders).
The department planned to release all 19 000 prisoners countrywide by Friday July 17 with vulnerable inmates taking priority, said Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola. Only low-risk offenders were eligible for the release programme, and so far none of those who had been released had re-offended, he said.
Professor Lukas Muntingh, project coordinator of Africa Criminal Justice Reform with the Dullah Omar Institute, said 4 000 to 6 000 sentenced prisoners were released monthly, either on parole or sentence expiry, according to his data from ten years ago.
“The question is, what is there for them to go home to? Often there is resistance from a community, or their family do not want them for a number of reasons, such as violent behaviour, drug addiction or no job.”
Community Safety MEC Albert Fritz has called for the government to explain what steps DCS officers will take to alert SAPS to the whereabouts of those granted parole.
Professor Muntingh said parolees received almost no post-release support services. “And parole has been reduced to a policing function – checking if the parolees are where they are permitted to be in terms of their release conditions. At best, DCS is fulfilling a tick-box function. They are not receiving the necessary support services to reduce the risk of re-offending,” he said.
Ms Sehloho said all parolees were released under community correctional offices closest to their nearest home address so that prison officials could monitor them until their sentence expires, she said.
Allende Cupido, spokeswoman for the Prison Care and Support Network, said the Covid-19 economic climate made it a difficult time to release prisoners.
“Their families also look to them to bring food to the table. It would be beneficial for parolees to engage with faith-based organisations who offer spiritual support and programmes. They can assist with ongoing rehabilitation and reintegration,” she said.