What prisoners are serving time for

About 71% of prisoners have committed violent crimes, says Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele

“There is a need to strengthen and reinforce the programmes to address aggressive crimes,” the newly appointed minister told the National Assembly’s correctional services committee.

Nearly a quarter of offenders were sentenced for economic crimes, he said.

Rounded off figures showed that 23% of offenders were sentenced for economic offences, 55% for aggressive crime, 16% for sexual offences, 2% for drug-related crime, and 5% for other crimes.

“The fact that we have approximately 40% of inmates who are remand detainees must also factor into our resource allocation and our strategic focus,” Ndebele said.

The average number of remand detainees in 2011/12 was about 46,000, while the average number of sentenced offenders for the same period was 113,000.

Last year, there were over 10,000 offenders serving sentences of incarceration for periods less than two years.

It was significant to note that about 2500 of these were sentenced for aggressive offences, just over 5000 for economic offences, about 1000 for narcotics-related offences, just over 100 for sexual offences, and about 1700 for other offences.

In addition, there were about 19,500 probationers and about 42,000 parolees in the community corrections system.

Ndebele said South Africa had by far the largest inmate population in Africa (about 146,000), followed by Ethiopia (about 85,000). Egypt, Rwanda, and Morocco came next in the 60,000s.

“I have been amazed to learn that Nigeria, with a prison population of about 40,000, has one-third of the number of inmates that we incarcerate in South Africa, and has an incarceration rate of 31 inmates per 100,000 people in the country,” he said.

Nigeria has a population of about 170 million, while South Africa has about 50 million.

South Africa was about 18th on the world list of incarceration rates, and in Africa seemed to have even overtaken Botswana in the last couple of years.

“We incarcerate about 316 people out of every 100,000 citizens.” 

By comparison, the US had the highest incarceration rate of 743 people out of 100,000, and Russia the second highest at 568 people out of every 100,000.

“In reflecting on what this means, we need to take into account the violent nature of crime in South Africa; we need to recognise that the attitude that 'incarceration is the best crime deterrent' is still prevalent in our judiciary; but these facts require us to think deeply about the manner in which we approach incarceration in this country.” 

It should be noted that about 40% of offenders were serving sentences of over 10 years, about 10,000 of whom were lifers.

“It is of concern that there is an increase in offenders sentenced to life imprisonment,” Ndebele said.

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