Convicts sentenced to life before 2004 may serve less time

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha.
Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha.
Linda Mthombeni

Pretoria - Inmates convicted to life imprisonment before 2004 could now spend fewer years behind bars before being eligible for parole.

Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Michael Masutha announced at a press conference in Pretoria on Thursday that two court cases have made an impact on the minimum detention period convicted criminals have to serve before being considered for parole.

One of the judgments that Masutha referred to was the Van Vuuren judgment in 2010 where the Constitutional Court ruled that offenders sentenced to life before October 1, 2004 be considered for the possibility of being released on parole after serving a period of 20 years.

The other, called the Van Wyk Judgment, delivered in the North Gauteng High Court in 2011, found that an offender sentenced to life before October 1, 2004 be entitled to an earlier parole date based on the credits earned in terms of Section 22A of the Correctional Services Act.  

Masutha said those serving life sentences could also be considered for parole in terms of the department's policy at the time the crime was committed.

“This meant that immediately, the 20 year consideration date was brought forward by six years and eight months,” Masutha said.

Masutha said by May 2012, 310 lifers had been considered for parole with another 114 still outstanding.

“However, in June 2012 the President approved a general special remission of sentence which further advanced the consideration date of lifers with another six months,” he said.

Yet another court ruling in 2016, which made the 2005 special remission of sentence applicable to all lifers who were originally excluded, further brought the date for parole consideration forward by another six months.

Masutha said this meant the Van Wyk group of offenders became eligible for consideration for parole after serving a minimum period of 12 years and four months of their life sentence.

With the enactment of Section 73 of the Correctional Services Act, the minimum detention period for lifers is 25 years.

Masutha said since the date of the judgment, 1412 offenders have been considered for parole, and since he assumed office in 2014, 1124 parole applications were brought before him. He has released 291 life imprisonment convicts on parole.

“It is important to state that this group of lifers, has the lowest rate of non-compliance to parole conditions and that only 30% of offenders in the group have been released on parole," he said. 

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