- Just under 7 000 inmates have been released on special parole to ease overcrowding in prisons to curb the spread of coronavirus in prisons.
- There are 1 485 accumulative positive cases of Covid-19 for inmates, with 15 fatalities.
- Justice Minister Ronald Lamola says the South African government recognises and affirms the right of inmates to inherent human dignity.
So far, just under 7 000 of the planned 19 000 prisoners have been released on the special parole dispensation for low risk inmates intended to curb the spread of Covid-19 in South African prisons.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola provided this statistic in a speech to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Meeting of the Group of Friends on the Nelson Mandela Rules on Friday.
In a proclamation gazetted on 8 May, President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the release on parole of low-risk inmates to ease overcrowding and curb the spread of Covid-19 in prisons. At the time it was reported that 19 000 inmates would be eligible for this parole. The initial releases started from 20 May and by 24 June, only 4 138 offenders were released.
"In South Africa, we have 243 Correctional Centres, with a bed capacity of 118 572. Currently, we have an inmate population of 145 376, resulting in overcrowding of 22.61%. We are addressing overcrowding and in line with the United Nations advice, we have announced a special parole dispensation for low risk inmates," Lamola said on Friday, according to a copy of his speech provided to the media.
"This dispensation is targeting the release of 19 000 inmates and we are busy considering their parole placement. Thus far, we have released just below 7 000 inmates into community corrections. After its completion, overcrowding would be reduced by 12.15%."
"The Department of Correctional Services has a team of healthcare officials dedicated to the well-being and healthcare of all inmates. These officials are armed with all relevant Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] and fully adhere to the health protocols in treating positive cases of Covid-19. We have employed over 600 additional medical personnel to augment our response capacity on Covid-19 in all our correctional centres in South Africa."
15 inmates have died of Covid-19
Lamola said all inmates, both sentenced and remanded, have been given PPE and those who tested positive have access to quality healthcare.
"Thus far, we have a total of 1 485 accumulative positive cases of Covid-19 for inmates," he said.
"This is equivalent to 1.02% of the inmate population. Of this number, we have recorded 1 231 recoveries, thus resulting in only 239 active cases in our centres. However, we have unfortunately lost 15 inmates who succumbed to complications of Covid-19. Most of these inmates had comorbidities such as diabetes, HIV and Aids, tuberculosis and high blood pressure."
"We have full confidence in our preventative and treatment measures and remain committed to protect inmates," said Lamola.
"This is in line with the Nelson Mandela Rules which provide that prisoners should enjoy the same standards of healthcare that are available in the community and should have access to necessary healthcare services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status."
He said for the past three months they have also prohibited visits to prisons.
"Inmates communicate with their loved ones through telephones and we have increased their access time for phones. We will review the decision at an appropriate time, but for now the prohibitions stand."
In 2015, the United Nations adopted a resolution that its minimum rules for the treatment of prisoners would be known as the Nelson Mandela Rules.
Lamola said the South African government recognised and affirmed the right of inmates to inherent human dignity.
"Under this period of the pandemic, we are resolved to guarantee this right and our efforts are galvanised towards this course. This we do guided by what our founding democratic president, Nelson Mandela, taught us when he said: 'No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones.'"
Lamola said South Africa made it its mission to translate these rules into a daily reality for inmates.
"We fully understand that the Mandela Rules should be part of much wider attempts to break the cycle of challenges that inmates are confronted with."
Lamola also paid homage to Nelson Mandela's daughter Zindzi Mandela, who was South Africa's ambassador to Denmark. She died this past week.
"She was a liberation fighter in her own right," Lamola said.
"Her contributions towards the liberation struggle and the fight for the attainment of freedom and democracy in South Africa, through personal engagement from a tender age, will be cherished as long as we live."