While at least 19 000 inmates inside South Africa's prisons will be eligible for special parole to curb the spread of coronavirus, those sentenced for a range of serious crimes will not make the cut.
This as President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the release on parole of low-risk inmates to ease overcrowding and curb the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.
On Friday, Ramaphosa announced and gazetted the decision in terms of Section 84(2)(1) of the Constitution together with Section 82(1)(a) of the Correctional Services Act 1998.
In Proclamation 19 of 2020 gazetted on 8 May, Ramaphosa outlined only select inmates would be eligible and only released after processes have been followed.
The criteria for those eligible is that they were or would have been incarcerated on 27 April and subject to conditions recommended by the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board under whose jurisdiction the sentenced offenders may fall in.
In the proclamation, Ramaphosa outlined low-risk offenders who would be considered and those who had or would have reached their minimum detention periods within a period of 60 months from 8 May.READ | Ramaphosa authorises release of low-risk inmates to combat spread of Covid-19 in prisons
They would also have been convicted for "petty crimes", which were elaborated on by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola.
On Friday, correctional services department spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said there were three new cases of the virus in SA's prison network, bringing the number in the department to 177.
Nxumalo added three officials have tested negative, with recoveries now standing at 87.
Who is not eligible for special parole?
- Inmates serving life imprisonment for crimes related to gender-based violence and sexual offences; child abuse; murder, attempted sabotage and terrorism.
- Those declared dangerous in line with the Criminal Procedure Act, and those certified mentally ill and detained in line with the Mental Health Care Act.
- Offenders with further charges that have not received bail or could not pay it.
- Inmates who escaped prison or absconded and were still at large as of the date of pronouncement.
- Inmates who are out on bail pending appeals.
- Those who committed violations under the Domestic Violence Act.
- Those detained for armed robbery or robbery with aggravating circumstances.
- Any other crime linked the above mentioned crimes, for example, house breaking with intent to steal or rape.
- Any attempt, soliciting, inciting, or conspiracy to commit the above crimes.
In the proclamation, Ramaphosa said those qualifying for the special parole would, however, be subjected to their fingerprints and DNA samples being drawn and checked in line with police prerequisites permitting a release.
The placement process of those meeting the standards will start once the parole board processes have been concluded and release programmes attended by them.
'Petty crimes, crimes of need'
Speaking at a briefing on Friday after Ramaphosa's announcement, Lamola and Correctional Services Commissioner Arthur Fraser said only those sentenced for petty crimes would be eligible for the special parole and would form part of the 19 000 being released across the country, News24 reported.
Fraser described these as "crimes of need", such as shoplifting, theft or trespassing.
Lamola said overcrowding in the country's prisons posed a risk as the virus could spread rapidly in enclosed spaces like cells.
He added prisons were already 32.58% overcrowded as of 4 May.
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"Another exacerbating factor is that some of the inmates already have compromised immune systems as a result of chronic conditions.
"This makes them more vulnerable to Covid-19 and it can have a catastrophic affect on inmates, officials, communities around correctional centres, as well as the broader public," Lamola said.
The DA has criticised the move, with MP Glynnis Breytenbach saying the decision might lead to a "greater humanitarian crisis" than the one the government was trying to avoid.