Cape Town – Members of Parliament on Wednesday rejected the possibility of former prisoners getting social grants.
They questioned the logic of spending money trying to rehabilitate and skill offenders so they could find work after their release, only for them to get money for free.
Justice committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga said the idea should not even get off the ground.
“The reason we say you must give them skills in correctional centres is because they must go out and work.”
He was speaking after the correctional services department briefed the committee on rehabilitation programmes, problems in the sector, the state of halfway houses, educational partnerships and programmes dealing with the spiritual wellness of prisoners.
Correctional services officials told the committee that when parolees and ex-offenders re-entered society, they were welcomed at home initially. Relations, however, got strained the longer the parolee did not bring in a salary.
To counter this, correctional services had approached the SA Social Security Agency to finalise a partnership for social relief for such parolees and ex-offenders.
The correctional services delegation included national commissioner Zach Modise and deputy chief commissioner James Smalberger.
DA MP James Selfe was shocked at the idea of giving grants to former prisoners.
“I have a problem in giving somebody a grant because they can’t find work because they have been in prison.”
He suggested employing them in expanded public works programmes to support them and so they could provide a socially useful service.
ANC MP Bongani Bongo was equally disquieted by the idea.
“It will be the government multiplying its efforts by zero to spend the whole money on trying to rehabilitate an offender, then give them a social grant.”
Motshekga however said the matter of parolees and ex-convicts struggling to find work needed to be investigated and dealt with if it turned out to be true.
He said there were already concerns about young people getting pregnant for social grants.
“Baby-making becomes a form of employment. The issue of social grants needs to be addressed. We can’t continue doing things that way,” Motshekga said.
Modise conceded it would not be right for ex-offenders to be offered social grants. He was not looking for them to get preferential treatment.
“We need to create a balance between services we provide to law abiding citizens and those who have offended society.”
MPs wanted more information on the possibility of expunging criminal records after a certain period, as this would make finding a job easier.
“There are very few people who are going to employ you when they see you have a criminal record,” Selfe said.