65% of medical parolees alive

2009-09-17 22:10

Johannesburg - Around 65% of people previously released on medical parole are still alive, Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Thursday.

A lot of "work and thinking" was required to improve the current medical parole system, a "sensitive and critical area", she told a media briefing following a summit reviewing parole boards in the country.

"There is a study that has been conducted by the department... they have identified the fact that we have a significant number, 65% of people who have been released on medical parole are still very much alive."

The summit, held in Boksburg, Johannesburg included the chairs and deputy chairs of the 52 boards. It marked the first five-year review of the parole system.

Terminally ill

The Act governing parole boards referred only to "terminally ill" prisoners and was silent on people with severe or debilitating illnesses.

"So you may be how sick, but if the doctors or the nurses are of the view that you are not about to die, it seems the view for now is a person who should be granted medical parole is a person who is terminally ill, a person we can be certain is going to die.

"I don't know how you make certain that a person is about to die."

Some of those released on medical parole actually outlived their sentences. There was, therefore, a need to have a "better definition of what medical parole is without making reference to terminally ill".

New legislation would be effected to remedy the current shortfalls, she said.

Medical parole came under the spotlight last year when convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik was released on medical parole due to his ill health.

Parolee commits crime

The minister added that more medical personnel were required to help develop policies on medical parole.

She told of an example, raised at the summit, of a woman released on medical parole who, less than two months later, committed another crime and returned to prison and was now pregnant.

Asked whether the system was open to favouritism, as was widely believed in the Shaik case, she said: "I can't be defensive and say that I rule that out.

"I think that it will be totally incorrect for us to say the system is perfect... this is a new system that is being tested," Mapisa-Nqakula said.

Regarding Shaik's parole, she said there could have been other inmates as sick as he who should also have been released by now.

While the process was not perfect, however, the minister believed there were a number of oversight mechanisms to make sure it was "clean" and "had integrity".

Reversing earlier provisions

Amendments to the current Correctional Services Act included the reversal of earlier provisions, which delegated granting parole to those serving life sentences, to the judiciary. The minister would now be responsible for this.

The summit considered improving the interface between the department and parole boards without compromising their independence.

Independence needed "clarification", she said, as there were "many, many grey areas".

Once the amended act took effect, one of the agencies which would have the right to direct the parole review board would be the office of the inspecting judge.

Currently, a review directive could only come from the department's commissioner or the minister.