More than a third of the 19,000 inmates earmarked for release have been granted parole since May after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced their release as a measure to combat the spread of Covid-19 in prisons.
However, the department had not met the deadline it set itself, July 17, for releasing all 19,000 prisoners eligible for parole.
“This has been quite an involved process. We must follow the process to the letter so we do not have issues of reoffending,” correctional services department spokesperson Logan Maistry said on Friday.
He said from May 20 to July 15, 6,791 low-risk inmates have been granted parole across SA as part of the Covid-19 special parole dispensation.
“We want to finish the process as soon as possible, but we will have to make sure all processes are done in a way to ensure the safety of the public and of the inmates is not compromised,” Maistry said.
When he made the announcement on May 8, Ramaphosa said the parole dispensation will apply to low-risk inmates who have passed their minimum detention period, or will approach this period in the coming five years.
Maistry said the release of inmates required a meticulous process which involved victim-offender mediation and the taking of DNA samples by the police.
“The low-risk inmates released have undergone relevant rehabilitation and reintegration programmes,” Maistry said.
Justice and correctional services minister Ronald Lamola said in May that female prisoners with infants, and elderly and sick inmates will be the first of the 19,000 out of a prison population of 155,000 to be considered for parole.
“The president’s decision only allows that these low-risk offenders be considered for parole by the parole boards. It will be done in phases and the most vulnerable, such as those with underlying health problems, elderly [aged above 60] and female offenders with infants will be prioritised,” Lamola said.
On Thursday, the number of Covid-19 cases in the department of correctional services reached 4,041, with 49 deaths. Of those cases, 2,441 were officials and 1,600 were inmates.
Maistry said the number of confirmed coronavirus cases for inmates represented 1.02% of the country’s total inmate population, with active cases standing at 0.18% of the prisoner population.
By Ernest Mabuza – TimesLive