Medical parole policy to go to Parliament

2010-10-28 17:36

Cape Town - A proposed new policy on medical parole for prisoners is set to come before Parliament, Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Thursday.

Briefing the media on the correctional matters amendment bill, approved this week by Cabinet, she said existing legislation, which referred to parole being granted to "terminally ill" inmates, had created enormous problems for her department.

"The assumption is that the person (granted medical parole) is likely to die. That has created challenges in that some of them... they recover, and the public find it difficult that we use the term 'terminally ill'," she said.

The new policy would change the definition and requirements of offenders who qualified to be placed on medical parole.

"Section 79 of the Correctional Services Act... which referred to offenders 'diagnosed as being in the final phase of any terminal diseases or condition' as a requirement for placement on medical parole will, in terms of this bill, be repealed."

New policy

The proposed new policy stated that a sentenced offender could be considered for placement on medical parole if:

- such offender is suffering from a terminal disease or condition or if such an offender is rendered physically incapacitated as a result of injury, disease or illness so as to severely limit daily activity or inmate self care;

- the risk of re-offending is low;

- there are appropriate arrangements for the inmate's supervision, care and treatment within the community.

The bill also provided for the manner in which a medical parole application should be lodged.

Mapisa-Nqakula said there were "quite high numbers" of prisoners in correctional services facilities who could not do things for themselves.

"This new medical parole policy should provide not only for people who, it is assumed, are likely to die in the next couple of days, but should actually provide for... inmates who are in very serious conditions of illness, who are totally incapacitated, can not do things for themselves, and therefore have become a... financial burden on the department.

"So it shouldn't be about releasing a person to die in the comfortable and warm surroundings and love of the family necessarily, but it should be to release a person for... compassionate reasons, and for the person to recover outside, if the person should ever recover.

"That is the essence of what we are trying to do with this new medical (parole) policy," she said.

Among recommendations her department was making was that every inmate who applied for medical parole should be examined by an independent panel of doctors.

"This is to make sure there are no erroneous releases of people from our facilities."

Good news for parolees

The minister also ruled out the re-incarceration of those, released on medical parole, who went on to make a full recovery.

"It is not our intention to release a person on medical parole grounds and incarcerate that person later when we realise that person has recovered," she said.

This is no doubt good news for medical parolees such as convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik, who was controversially released from prison in March last year because he was suffering from a "terminal illness".

He had served two years and four months of a 15-year sentence. Nineteen months since his release, numerous media reports indicate he appears to be enjoying fair health.

Mapisa-Nqakula warned that medical parolees caught violating their parole condition could end up back inside.

"You may be released on medical grounds, but if you violate the parole condition... this means you have to go back. But you can't take back a person because they have recovered," she said.

She said the bill would now go to Parliament and the public would have opportunity to "engage" on it.