Nearly 14,000 inmates released on special COVID-19 parole so far, MPs told

The special parole was announced by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola in May last year, because the department was unable to enforce social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols in prisons due to overcrowding.

FILE: Inmates at the Leeuwkop Correctional Facility. Picture: Thomas Holder/Eyewitness News

CAPE TOWN - The Department of Correctional Services said that nearly 14,000 inmates had so far been released under the special COVID-19 parole dispensation, while 126 – less than 1% - had been returned to jail after committing fresh crimes.

The special parole was announced by Justice Minister Ronald Lamola in May last year in response to the department’s inability to enforce social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols in its facilities due to overcrowding.

Officials have been briefing Parliament’s Justice and Correctional Services oversight committee.

Correctional Services said that as of last month (April), 13,989 offenders had been released, out of 17,922 perpetrators of non-violent crimes who qualified for the special parole.

The department’s Anna Molapo said that some of the 126 parolees who were put back behind bars for re-offending allegedly committed serious offences, including assault and murder.

“It should be highlighted that the 2020 COVID-19 special parole dispensation was successfully implemented, with lessons learned.”

Deputy Justice Minister Phathekile Holomisa told the committee the country’s prisons were on average 37% overcrowded, with some facilities 100% overcrowded.

Molapo said that community corrections offer a less costly alternative to incarceration and if fully capacitated, would reduce overcrowding in the country’s jails.

She said that the department was working with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research on developing special "location-aware" bracelets to help monitor parolees, as physical monitoring was labour-intensive and expensive.

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