More than 100 die as Covid-19 storm rips through SA's prisons

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Prisoners and prison workers have fallen victim to Covid-19.
Prisoners and prison workers have fallen victim to Covid-19.
Gallo Images / Sowetan /Thulani Mbele
  • Covid-19 has, so far, claimed the lives of 60 prison officials and 43 inmates.
  • In addition, over 4 000 officials and more than 2 000 inmates have been infected.
  • In May, the president authorised the release on parole of low-risk inmates to ease overcrowding and curb the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.

The number of Covid-19 cases exploded in South Africa's prisons as more than 4 000 officials and over 2 000 inmates tested positive for the virus.

By 23 August, a total of 4 136 officials and 2 336 inmates had been infected with Covid-19.

The virus also claimed the lives of 60 officials and 43 inmates.

READ | Ramaphosa calls on citizens to use the Covid-19 app - here's how it works

Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola revealed these figures in response to a written parliamentary question from EFF MP Patrick Sindane.

Sindane wanted details on the number of prison officials and inmates that have been infected.

He also requested details on the government's strategy to curb the spread of Covid-19 in correctional services centres.

Lamola said the process in releasing offenders was ongoing.

READ | 'All escapees' from Malmesbury correctional facility rearrested - justice department

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.

Parole

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 June, around 7 000 of the planned 19 000 prisoners were released on the special parole dispensation.

"As at 20 August 2020, a total 10 153 offenders have been released on special parole dispensation. The inmate population on 20 May 2020, (releases started on this date) was 155 069 which translated into an occupancy level of 130.78% and an overcrowding level of 30.78%.

"The inmate population, as on 20 August 2020, was 138 070, which translates into an occupancy level of 114.52% and an overcrowding level of 14.52%," Lamola said.

READ ALSO | Covid-19: More than 10 000 lockdown contravention cases still open

He also said efforts to reduce overcrowding in prisons have yielded some results.

"Since the commencement of the implementation of the 2020 Covid-19 special parole dispensation, the department down-managed overcrowding in correctional centres with an overall of 16.26% (from 155 069 to 138 070).

"The above are examples of how the Department of Correctional Services is successfully dealing with overcrowding in correctional centres to curb the spread of Covid-19.

"The Department also recommend that the courts should consider alternative sentencing as this will also assist with the management of Covid-19 in correctional services," he said.

By 24 June, the inmate population was 147 922, consisting of 95 159 sentenced offenders and 52 763 remand detainees and other unsentenced inmates, which brought the overcrowding level to 24.75%.

News24 reported in July, the government has, in the past five years, added 2 650 extra bed space at correctional services facilities across the country, but the latest figures show close to 30 000 inmates are still without a bed.

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