There's been a 3 000% increase in prisoners serving life sentences since 1995 - LHR

2016-09-20 15:31

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Cape Town - The country's "dark" and "draconian" parole regulations are violating eligible prisoners' rights by keeping them behind bars for too long, Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) told Parliament on Tuesday.

LHR attorney Clare Ballard told the portfolio committee on justice and correctional services that South Africa's parole process "badly needs redress".

"The problem of backlog is only going to get worse. Parole is necessary because it saves a life sentence from becoming unconstitutional," she said.

Ballard said there had been a 3 000% increase in "lifers", prisoners serving life sentences, since 1995.

She said that the lifer population grew from 443 inmates in 1995 to more than 13 000 in 2014.

The process for inmates eligible for parole, regardless of sentence or crime, could take between five to eight years to complete.

Parole process overhaul

"The problem is not going away. The lifer population is expanding rapidly," she said.

"A life offender is a different kind of offender. They are less likely to be rehabilitated. The generational effects are much harsher than someone serving a shorter sentence, and he is one that has lost hope."

Ballard said society should care about this, because releasing people from prison in this condition did not do society any favours from a crime point of view.

She called on Parliament to institute a large scale overhaul of the parole process.

"From a selfish perspective, if we care about the crime rate, we should care about parole."

The Wits Justice Project (WJP), an investigative unit, also addressed the committee on Monday, and said there was a gap in reviewing the cases of inmates who were wrongfully accused.

Refusal to admit guilt

Simonia Mashangoane, of the WJP, cited two cases in which the unit had successfully helped overturn convictions of prisoners who had been wrongfully accused.

"But it took seven years," she added.

Carolyn Raphaely, also of the WJP, said the reason some of these offenders are denied parole is their refusal to admit guilt in the crime.

Refusing to admit guilt was not a condition of parole in law, but had become one in practice, she said.

"What we are worried about are the cases where an offender is actually innocent, refuses to take responsibility for it even while in prison, and is unfairly penalised for their stance."

The committee was also due to hear from the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services on Monday, to discuss the successes, challenges and future plans for the parole board.

Read more on:    parliament  |  prisons

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