Parole outcry

2008-10-06 00:00

The idea that Clive Derby-Lewis, co-assassin in the murder of Chris Hani, should soon be released from prison has outraged many people. The granting of parole to convicted killers is always a controversial matter. In this case, the political ramifications of the crime add to its complexities, and it is further clouded by the authorities’ extraordinarily incompetent and insensitive dealings with the Hani family.

It is important, however, to separate the bureaucratic bungling of the implementation of the parole board’s decision from the principles guiding the decision itself. The feelings of the victim’s family and associates may be taken into consideration, but cannot be the sole determining factor. Certainly there have been many instances, both here and abroad, where the crime has been so repulsive, or the killer considered such a danger to society, that parole cannot be granted. With Derby-Lewis, it was a very particular crime carried out with a very specific motive. Unlike many murderers prematurely released from prison, he is unlikely to kill again. The amnesty process, moreover, has set free many other perpetrators of politically motivated killings. In this instance, however, it could be argued that in the context of the times, and given the potential it had to unleash uncontrollable mayhem and bloodletting across the country, this was a crime so abhorrent as to be unpardonable.

There are many who think that all killers should rot in jail forever and the name Derby-Lewis will be met with revulsion for years to come, but the law in this country now takes a commendably civilised stance. Not for nothing is the state’s prisons department named “correctional services”. The criminal justice system rests on the notions of punishment and rehabilitation. The guiding principle is that when a convicted person has been duly punished and is no longer a threat to society, he or she should be released. When he walks out, an elderly man after 15 years in prison, Derby-Lewis will be the beneficiary of an enlightened constitutional system that his own benighted actions might have obliterated, but the whole nation is the better for it.

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