Releasing of inmates amid Covid-19 can lead to 'greater humanitarian crisis' - DA

2020-05-08 19:14

The DA believes placing almost 19 000 inmates on parole to curb the spread of Covid-19 in prisons may lead to a "greater humanitarian crisis". 

On Friday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced his decision to authorise the parole of low-risk offenders as a measure against the spread of the virus in prisons, which are considered high-risk areas for infection.

The Presidency said the parole dispensation would apply to low-risk inmates who have already served their minimum sentences, or who would approach this period in the next five years.

Prisoners affected by this decision will not be pardoned nor have their sentences remitted. Instead, they will be placed on parole and will continue to serve their sentences under community corrections until they reach their respective sentence expiry dates.

On Friday, DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach said the party did not support Ramaphosa's latest decision.

"While South Africa's overcrowded prisons create unique challenges for the Department of Correctional Services in the fight against Covid-19, we believe that the government has not adequately explored all of its options in this regard, and that this release of prisoners may lead to a greater humanitarian crisis than that which it is attempting to avoid," Breytenbach said in a statement.

On Friday, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said only petty criminals - incarcerated for crimes such as shoplifting, theft and trespassing - would be considered for this parole dispensation.

Prisoners with underlying health conditions, the elderly and women offenders with infants would be prioritised.

Lamola added overcrowding in prisons presented a significant challenge in the fight against the spread of Covid-19 because the virus spreads quicker in closed spaces.

The release of almost 19 000 inmates on parole is expected to relieve the overcrowded prison system.

Breytenbach though, continued to question the decision.

READ | Only inmates convicted of petty crimes will go free, says Lamola

"Many of the prisoners who stand to be released do not have families or homes to return to. Those who do may well return to a home where there is already little or no food," she said.

"Finding employment, difficult enough under the best of circumstances for those with a criminal record, will be impossible in the current economy."

Breytenbach added these factors would increase the possibility of re-offending, contributing to South Africa's high recidivism rate and it would add a high social burden on already struggling families and communities.

She said the government should have explored alternative means of reducing overpopulation in prisons, such as converting unused Department of Public Works properties into low-security correctional facilities for petty offenders and those nearing the end of their sentences.

"The unsanitary and unsafe conditions in our prisons are not recent, nor or are they the result of the virus. These conditions are the results of 26 years of neglect and failure to upgrade prisons in line with the increasing inmate population.

"Early release should only be considered if there is a social worker's report that indicates that the offender has shelter to return to, will not place an unnecessary financial burden on relatives, and is at low risk of re-offending, with proper processes in place to allow community corrections to deal with a deluge of parolees.

Read more on:    da  |  ronald lamola  |  lockdown  |  politics
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