Thursday, 13 May 2021

Cape Town: A total of 126 inmates that were released under COVID-19 special parole dispensation, have been re-admitted to correctional facilities after failing to comply with parole conditions.

Briefing the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services on progress regarding the release of offenders on parole to address COVID-19 on Wednesday, the Department of Correctional Services said that the 126 re-offenders/alleged re-offenders represent 0.9% of the 13 989 offenders that were released during the special parole dispensation, as at April 2021.

“The 2020 COVID-19 special parole dispensation was successfully implemented. However, more still needs to be done to get communities more involved in the monitoring, rehabilitation and reintegration of parolees and probationers to ensure a smooth reintegration process,” the department told the committee.

Last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa approved the placement of selected categories of sentenced offenders on parole as a measure to combat the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities, which are considered high-risk areas of infection.

The COVID-19 parole dispensation excludes inmates who were serving sentences for sexual offences, child abuse, murder, attempted murder, armed robbery, sedition, high treason, sabotage and terrorism.

It also excludes offenders sentenced to life imprisonment, violations under the Domestic Violence Act, 1998(Act No 116 of 1998), any escaped/absconded inmate who evaded the justice system after being released on bail pending appearance and was still at large on 16 December 2019, those certified as mentally ill and detained in accordance with the Mental Health Act of 2002 (Act 17 of 2002).

Regarding the offenders who were to benefit from the special parole dispensation, the committee heard that the offenders were to be placed out as from 20 May 2020 in controllable groups, as per identified category and sentence group.

The department said it was projected that a total of approximately 19 000 offenders who committed non-violent crimes would benefit from the special parole dispensation.

“Regions were provided with the list to verify and purify. This resulted into a purified total figure of 18 544. Other offenders that had been identified to qualify picked up further charges, hence the drop of qualifying cases to 17 922,” the department said.

Sexual activities between officials and inmates

Regarding incidents of sexual activities between officials and inmates, the committee heard that this seldom occurs in the department’s workplace, but “when it happens it is regarded as despicable and unfortunate”.

“These acts of misconduct defeat the mandate of the department and as a result, puts the name of the department into disrepute. In the latest incident, the official caught on camera during such action had been dismissed and the offender was downgraded to a maximum offender and transferred to a different facility,” the department said.

Disciplinary code and procedure

The committee also heard that the disciplinary code and procedure must be consistent with the principles of administrative justice, while at the same time ensuring effective and timeous action in instances where the safe, secure and orderly management of a correctional institution is at stake.

Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on Corrections, Qubudile Dyantyi, said the department has a long way to go in responding to its mandate.

“You can excel at everything else but if you are struggling at your core mandate of rehabilitation, it does little to assist. You are never going to get restorative justice if you don’t attend to those issues.” Dyantyi said.