More lifers threaten court action over parole backlog

2016-11-13 06:00
Michael Masutha

Michael Masutha

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The court battles over unresolved parole applications, involving Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha, are mounting.

Another group of prisoners serving life sentences, this time 33 of them, at Grootvlei Prison in the Free State, have jumped on the bandwagon, demanding that their application be considered, and they are threatening to approach the Bloemfontein High Court next week.

They accuse Masutha’s department of having ignored their applications for several years and of placing the blame on massive backlogs in the parole system.

Two weeks ago, 25 prisoners serving life sentences at Mthatha Medium Prison in the Eastern Cape gave Masutha 30 days to consider their parole applications or face action in the Eastern Cape High Court in Bhisho.

Their lawyer, Clare Ballard, who heads up the penal reform programme of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR), told City Press the matter would end up in court.

The 25 prisoners made their application to the high court to intervene on their behalf and force correctional services to hear their parole application.

Their earlier bid for legal aid was turned down by the Legal Aid Board, so they approached LHR for legal representation. The human rights body told City Press on Friday that it was considering the case.

“I believe this will end up in court. I do not see them fixing a broken system in such a short time. We cannot just sit and wait while this happens,” said Ballard.

Ballard added that applications made on behalf of “new applicants” in at least seven prisons – including Mthatha, Zonderwater and Leeuwkop – were at varying stages.

Notice would be served on the department, on behalf of each group of prisoners, when the deadlines set for the department expired.

Correctional services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said they were aware of two cases that had been brought before the Bloemfontein High Court.

The department had filled vacancies for social workers and psychologists to try to address the backlog, caused largely by cases “referred back for profiling”.

“We are using various platforms to explain some of the backlogs in processing parole,” said Nxumalo.

“The minister has also stipulated minimum performance standards for each stage of the lifer’s parole process [which cannot be breached].”

Ballard said there had been a 3 000% increase in the number of inmates serving life sentences over the past 20 years, attributing this to the introduction of minimum sentencing procedures.

These caused a massive backlog in the number of applications for parole being processed by the case management committees and the National Council of Correctional Services.

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