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Prisoner rights organisation calls for release of 24,000 more inmates

Prisoners' rights organisation Sapohr is calling for the release of 43,000 inmates in total.
Prisoners' rights organisation Sapohr is calling for the release of 43,000 inmates in total.
Image: ifh/123rf.com

The South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (Sapohr) is demanding that the government release 43,000 prisoners to combat the spread of Covid-19 in jails.

Earlier this month it was announced that as many as 19,000 inmates who committed “petty” crimes could be released on parole provided they met certain conditions.

Miles Bhudu of Sapohr said his organisation demanded that a further 24,000 prisoners be released, taking the total to 43,000.

“We have consulted the department’s 2018/2019 annual report and it states that there were 162,587 warm bodies [inmates]. But our [prison] capacity as a country is 120,000. So they have to release more prisoners to ensure that our infrastructural capacity is protected.

“If someone comes out to commit crimes then the department has failed to do its job. Their job is to correct prisoners’ behaviour and reintegrate them back to society as useful citizens,” said Bhudu.

However, the Public Service Association (PSA) said the pandemic could not be used to gain freedom into a society from which one was removed.

“The release of offenders will compromise the gains the president has made when instituting the national lockdown in March. Small and big businesses are incurring huge losses, unemployment has reached a record level. In the current economic conditions, it will only be a matter of time before they return to crime in a desperate attempt to survive,” said the PSA.

On Saturday, the number of infections in the correctional services department - for both prisoners and officials combined - stood at 388, but by Sunday the number had jumped to 571.

Correctional Services spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said the department had no plans to release 24,000 additional inmates.

“The risk will be much higher. Long-term sentences are given to people with serious offences. There is no consideration by DCS (correctional services) and there is no engagement with the so-called prisoners' organisations.

“Our attention at this stage is on prevention and containing the spread of Covid-19, while processing parole placement for low-risk inmates, as announced by the minister on May 8 2020,” Nxumalo said.

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