Longer prison sentences on the rise

2017-03-08 20:16

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Cape Town – Life sentences and sentences of more than 20 years increased by more than 400% between 2003 and 2016, Parliament's justice committee heard on Wednesday.

Representatives from the Department of Correctional Services, the National Prosecuting Authority, Legal Aid, the police and the judiciary were briefing the committee on the impact of bail protocol.

The department's Advocate Bradley Smith told the committee that sentences of up to 10 years had been substantially reduced.

In 2003/04, 6 380 people received sentences between zero and six months, while in 2015/16, 4 594 offenders were given the same sentence, which is a 28% reduction.

More than 6 100 prisoners were sentenced to six to 12 months in the year 2003/04, and 3 041 in the last financial year, a 51% reduction.

Sentences of between 12 and 24 months saw a 71% reduction in the same period.

Lack of public support

"There are less and less prisoners receiving short-term sentences," Smith told the committee.

This was in sharp contrast to the developments in longer sentences, which saw a 77% increase of between 10 to 15 years.

In 2003/04, 5 635 offenders were sentenced to 15 and 20 years in jail, and 13 584 were given the same sentence in 2015/16, a 141% increase.

The number of prisoners who received sentences of more than 20 years increased by 8 706 in the years under review, a 439% increase, Smith said.

Life sentences grew by 11 124, a 413% increase.

Factors impacting the sentenced population included a lack of public support as well as the fear by the judiciary and politicians of being viewed as being soft on crime, Smith told the committee.

Community courts

Breaches of early conditional release and probation orders were also a factor, he said.

Committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga raised concerns that the country was using the law to deal with societal problems.

Community courts could solve the problems, he said.

"People must solve their own problems," Motshekga said.

Prisoners should be sent to farms to make food, he said.

Democratic Alliance MP James Selfe said it was a concern that the number of long sentences was growing.

"These people never get out of the system. We are simply warehousing them," he said.

Read more on:    crime  |  parliament

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