How parole will help fight novel Covid-19 pandemic
Correctional facilities around the world frequently suffer from overcrowding. By design of these facilities, offenders are in close contact with each other on an almost constant basis.
What some may also see as peculiar, offenders carry novel health challenges thus making correctional facilities uniquely vulnerable to diseases such as Covid-19.
This will mean that the risk inherent to increasing offender population during an epidemic becomes grave and can never be overlooked.
Resolutely, the United Nations Commission for Human Rights made a call, advising states to put measures in place to protect those in detention and to find appropriate means to reduce inmate population, in particular, low risk offenders and those who are at risk of contracting the virus.
A country like South Africa with elevated crime level had to engage in a delicate exercise with extreme prudence when exploring means to reduce inmate population. Those in authority cannot afford to be seen to be oblivious to the pain and cries of the victims of crime.
As a constitutional democracy, President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised that there be consideration of parole for selected low risk qualifying sentenced offenders who have or will reach their minimum detention periods within five years.
This is in line with Section 82(1) of the Correctional Services Act, where in Correctional Supervision and Parole Boards (CSPBs) will process profiles of eligible categories for parole placement.
When this announcement was made on May 8, it was clearly stated that this will be done in phases and the most vulnerable, such as those with underlying health problems, elderly (aged above 60 years) and female offenders with infants, will be prioritised.
Some of the correctional facilities in SA are more than 100% overpopulated and this will make it impossible to exercise social distancing.
Such then called for correctional services to go aggressively on prevention measures and Infection Prevention Control as a defence mechanism against the virus.
Hence a reduction on inmate population creates an enabling environment for correctional services to confront Covid-19 and further scale up resources required for effective implementation of the Disaster Management Response Strategy.
SA has made it clear that all parole placement processes will be followed as legislated, wherein, the victims of crime will also be invited to make representations. Furthermore, this relates to aspects of social reintegration where communities play an active role in the realisation of corrections as a societal responsibility.
Communities must assist parolees to adapt and start living a normal life as law abiding citizens.
Locking up low risk offenders in secluded buildings will do nothing in building societies and reintegrating those in conflict with the law.
As a measure to buffer heightened risk of infections and flatten the curve, visitation by community members remain suspended in correctional centres.
Covid-19 has caused panic and anxiousness, and such will call for some degree of connection between inmates and their families. Use of telephone and other communication means are in existence.
The department has also ramped up toiletries during this period in order to ensure that those incarcerated are not left vulnerable.
Families and friends have also been advised to transfer monies through the banks in case their loved ones will want to purchase certain items from the tuckshops.
*Fraser is a national commissioner for correctional services
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