EXPLAINER | Bob Hewitt: Understanding parole, who gets it and why

2019-09-17 21:40
Australian-born former tennis champion Bob Hewitt. (Photo by Gallo Images / The Times / Moeletsi Mabe)

Australian-born former tennis champion Bob Hewitt. (Photo by Gallo Images / The Times / Moeletsi Mabe)

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Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has ordered a review of a Correctional Supervision and Parole Board (CSPB) decision to release convicted rapist and tennis coach Bob Hewitt on parole.

There was confusion over the weekend after the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) first denied that the parole board had heard Hewitt's application. A letter then emerged confirming that Hewitt would be placed on parole on September 23 this year.

He has served half of his six-year sentence for rape and sexual assault, making him eligible to apply for parole.

But the minister has criticised the board for not consulting Hewitt's victims and their families about his application to be released from prison.

With gender-based violence making news headlines recently, there have been calls for harsher punishment for perpetrators.

There has also been an outcry from Hewitt's victims and other victims of sexual offences about the fact that he was allowed to apply for his release on parole after serving just three years in prison.

News24 explains what parole is, how it works and what factors are considered.

What is parole?

Parole refers to that portion of the sentence of imprisonment which is served in the community under the control and supervision of correctional officials, subject to conditions which have been set by the correctional services commissioner or his/her delegate. Parole is technically described as "an internationally accepted mechanism that allows for the conditional release of offenders from a correctional centre into the community prior to the expiration of their entire sentences of imprisonment, as imposed by a court of law".

This means that parole is the conditional release of a sentenced prisoner from a state facility. Prisoners are not entitled to it – it is not a right but rather a privilege and is conditional.

What is the purpose of parole?

If a prisoner has demonstrated that they are sufficiently rehabilitated they are allowed to get an early release. However, it doesn't mean they are completely free. There are conditions attached and it's not a given that they will be granted parole.

What is the process of parole?

Parole is governed by legislation, specifically the Correctional Services Act 111 of 1998. Convicts are eligible to apply for parole after serving half of their sentences. The offender will apply to the parole board which will consider the application and either grant it or turn it down.

When can a prisoner apply to be placed on parole?

In standard cases, they can apply for parole after serving one half of the sentence. This is not always the case. An offender sentenced to life in prison must serve 25 years before parole can be considered and referred back to the original court for approval. The court may make a ruling that two thirds of a sentence may be served instead of four fifths. It also depends on when the prisoner was sentenced because an amendment to the Act was passed in 1997. It's a complicated issue which is often misinterpreted by the media and commentators.

What does the parole board consider when hearing an application?

Every application is unique and applications are considered individually. There is no blanket rule. According to parole expert and lawyer Clifford Gordon of CG Attorneys in Johannesburg, the board considers the nature of the crime, where it was a serious offence or not, and the length of the sentence.

They also consider the offenders themselves, including whether they had completed anger management courses and conducted themselves properly in prison.

The board also considers whether the prisoner has a support structure in society and prospects of employment.  

Who sits on the parole board?

Each prison across the country has its own board that decides on applications. It usually includes the head of the prison or the deputy head, a community member and social workers. Gordon says it's a "very diverse group that considers the factors".

Is the board obliged to consult the victims of the crime or only the perpetrator?

The board absolutely must consider the victims when making its decision. The decision to place Hewitt on parole was so controversial because the survivors were not considered.

The act clearly states that "where a complainant or relative is entitled in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, to make representations or wishes to attend a meeting of a board, the national commissioner must inform the board in question accordingly and that board must inform the complainant or relative in writing when and to whom he or she may make representations and when and where a meeting will take place".

Can a decision of the parole board be taken on review?

Yes, there is an appeal or review process. The law says that the minister, the national correctional services commissioner or the inspecting judge can refer the matter to a separate panel called the Correctional Supervision and Parole Review Board.

Decisions in cases involving serious offences, such as murder or high-profile crimes, like the one involving Chris Hani's killer Janus Walus, are usually sent to the minister.

The minister can refer these decisions to the parole review board, which is a national body that includes a judge as a chairperson, a director or deputy director of public prosecutions, a member of the DCS, a person who has special knowledge of the correctional system and two representatives of the public. If there is still unhappiness about the decision of the review board, it can be taken to a High Court for a judicial review.

Why do we have parole?

Parole is in place to allow an offender that has proven, through his or her conduct, to be sufficiently rehabilitated to be released back into society. They've paid their debts and can be reintegrated into the system. Parole does not mean they are free. They are still serving their sentences. They are released with conditions, and if they breach the conditions they can be returned to a facility.

What conditions would these usually include?

These conditions are set out in the law and could include a variety of measures, including house arrest, performing community service, seeking employment, paying compensation or damages to victims, taking part in treatment or support programmes, participating in mediation, being restricted to a magisterial district, living at a fixed address, refraining from using alcohol or drugs and from committing a criminal offence, being barred from visiting a particular place or making contact with particular individuals, refraining from threatening specific people and/or being subject to monitoring.

Do officials monitor prisoners released on parole?

All those placed on parole are subjected to monitoring by correctional officials or volunteers which includes monitoring via telephone contact at home and work, visits to the parolee's residence and workplace and compulsory visits by the parolee to a corrections office etc. The degree of monitoring is determined by the offender's possible risk to the community.

Are there different kinds of parole?

Yes, there is regular parole and day parole which means the prisoner is allowed out for the day to go to work but must return to a facility at night. There is also medical parole which was what was granted to one-time financial adviser to former president Jacob Zuma, Schabir Shaik, and former national police commissioner Jackie Selebi.

Read more on:    bob hewitt  |  courts  |  judiciary
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