Six-month reduction for violent criminals
THE first wave of 7 000 convicted criminals due to be released in the Eastern Cape were set free on Monday as part of President Jacob Zuma’s special remission of sentences programme, which will see more than 35 000 prisoners released around the country over the next 10 weeks.
Correctional Services authorities backed the controversial decision announced by Zuma on Freedom Day, saying violent offenders would not qualify for release and letting the prisoners go would ease prison overcrowding.
But experts said it would not solve the problem and violent criminals would benefit with a sixmonth reduction in sentences.
Last week, officials lifted the restrictions placed on 4 495 parolees and offenders on probation doing community service. In the next 10 weeks, these conditions will be lifted on 400 more parolees.
A further 2 100 convicts are scheduled to be released from jail over the same period.
Civil Society Prison Reform Initiative coordinator Lukas Muntingh said while government portrayed the release of petty criminals as beneficial to prison overcrowding it failed to say how the release would benefit the system.
“The real problem with overcrowding is in the awaiting-trial section and not the convicted and sentenced section,” he said.
“I fail to see how releasing convicted criminals will free up the awaiting-trial prisoners space and reduce overcrowding. They are separate sections and I am really not sure what they are trying to address by doing this.”
Although authorities claimed violent offenders would not benefit from the remission, experts said they would in fact receive a sixmonth sentence reduction.
“Initially it will only benefit criminals serving shorter sentences for less serious crimes or those who are about to be released.
“But those serving longer sentences for violent crimes will also benefit as they will be getting a sixmonth reduction of sentence,” Muntingh said.
He said in 2005, when 31 000 prisoners were released, prisons were bursting at the seams.
But this time it was the awaitingtrial section that was overcrowded.
“The prisons are not as they were back then.
“The problem at that time was not the awaiting-trial prisoners as it is today.”
Of the 35 000 prisoners who will be released over the next two months, about 14 651 are serving time in jail while 20 855 are on probation or parole.
From next week to the middle of next month, prisoners serving sentences of one to five years will be set free, while those sentenced to more than seven years will be released afterwards.
The entire release process is due to be concluded by July 6.
By 1pm on Monday, the Eastern Cape correctional services department had released 252 prisoners, most of them juveniles.
The total number of inmates in the province’s 45 correctional centres is about 19 200, although they were designed for only 12 300.
Deputy regional commissioner Nozipiwo Dumbela said the process was running smoothly.
“When released, the inmates are taken straight to the door of their homes by our staff while those who qualify for correctional supervision are taken to our offices to be registered and then taken home. ”
According to the national guidelines, all offenders “irrespective of crime committed” qualify for a maximum of six months special remission of sentence.
Those who committed non-violent crimes are given an additional 18 months off their sentences.
Among those set to benefit is former police commissioner Jackie Selebi, whose 15-year jail term will be reduced by 18 months.