Prison chaos threats linked to lengthy pa­role de­lays

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - NI­COLA DANIELS

WITH the num­ber of pris­on­ers sen­tenced to life imprisonment in­creas­ing by over 400% in the past 13 years, civic or­gan­i­sa­tions say leg­is­la­ture and sys­tem­atic flaws in the pa­role process are largely to blame and needs to be re­viewed.

At the week­end, the Depart­ment of Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices noted “with grave con­cern” spo­radic me­dia re­ports of of­fend­ers serv­ing life sen­tences threat­en­ing to cause chaos in cor­rec­tional cen­tres be­cause of sys­tem­atic de­lays in pro­cess­ing pa­role place­ments.

“In the past 13 years, the num­ber of of­fend­ers sen­tenced to imprisonment of 20 years and more in­creased by a stag­ger­ing 439% while lif­ers grew by 413%,” Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices said.

“This means there must be strin­gent pro­cesses in deal­ing with the grow­ing num­bers of lif­ers and their con­sid­er­a­tion for pa­role place­ment.”

Lawyers for Hu­man Rights at­tor­ney Clare Bal­lard said: “Af­ter be­ing el­i­gi­ble for pa­role, it can still take up to 10 years for a lifer to get pa­role.

“The process is ex­tremely te­dious. They have to go through the pa­role board, then the Na­tional Coun­cil for Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices and then the min­is­ter makes the fi­nal de­ci­sion.”

An­other prob­lem was the lack of “psy­cho­log­i­cal ser­vices”.

“They don’t hire enough so­cial work­ers and psy­chol­o­gists, so it cre­ates a bot­tle­neck in the sys­tem.”

Sonke Gen­der Jus­tice na­tional pris­ons spe­cial­ist Ari­ane Nevin said crime rates haven’t changed much but peo­ple were stay­ing in prison for longer be­cause of the 1997 Manda­tory Min­i­mum Sen­tenc­ing law.

“The law cre­ated a stan­dard sen­tence of 20-plus years for cer­tain crimes, so the judge can­not use his/her dis­cre­tion,” Nevin said. “While the law had good in­ten­tions, it’s cre­at­ing new chal­lenges.”

Africa Crim­i­nal Jus­tice Re­form’s Lukas Munt­ingh agreed the leg­is­la­tion needed to be re­viewed. “In 1995, we had 400 lif­ers, we now have 18 000.”

Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices na­tional com­mis­sioner Zach Modise said: “Of­fend­ers have the right to raise con­cerns but it can­not be ac­cept­able they dis­rupt op­er­a­tions with­out con­se­quences. Safety and se­cu­rity is para­mount…”

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