The 37 783 prisoners who were granted a presidential pardon last month have been set up for failure and nearly half of them would end up back in prison, National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (Nicro) said on Tuesday.
Celia Dawson, the deputy CEO of Nicro, was speaking after the Department of Correctional Services announced that that 43 prisoners who were released three weeks ago under a special remission of sentence by President Jacob Zuma were back in jail.
“From the very start, it was evident that these prisoners were not given the opportunity of being sufficiently prepared for their release,” Dawson said.
“There was in theory a 10-week period in which they could have been prepared for the outside world but the reality is that there is very little you can do to rehabilitate 37 000 plus prisoners in 10 weeks,” she said.
The 43 were rearrested for a range of offences including rape, attempted murder, robbery, assault, kidnapping, theft, stock theft, possession of drugs, possession of stolen goods and housebreaking.
Two are women. And four of the prisoners are from KZN.
Correctional Services spokeswoman Nokuthula Zikhali said all four had served sentences for theft and were re-arrested for stealing.
Two were apprehended in Port Shepstone, one in Kokstad and the fourth at Glencoe.
Their arrests will not have any bearing on the sentences for which they were pardoned, Zikhali said.
She added that all the prisoners pardoned had undergone several programmes in prison to rehabilitate them.
“It is frustrating for us because we would have thought they would have changed their ways and would have left their life of crime behind when they were released,” Zikhali said.
Dawson said that prisoners who were released unexpectedly faced serious challenges reintegrating into society. “Less than one percent of those released would probably find a job in this economy. More importantly, those that were recently released were not… prepared for life outside prison walls,” she said.
“When people are locked up for a long time, they become institutionalised and their routine and the life in prison is internalised.
“You get told when to get up, you get told when to eat, you get told when to bath and you get told when lights are out. All the decision making is taken away from you. Now you get released and you got to fend for yourself. That is the worst.”
The prisoners were pardoned as part of the April 27 Freedom Day celebrations during which Zuma announced that specific categories of sentenced offenders, probationers and parolees would be released.
Prisoners who qualified began leaving the prison system from May 14.
Dawson said the rehabilitation programmes offered by Department of Correctional Services were insufficient.
“Very few prisoners benefit from programmes in prison. There are 400-plus social workers and they have 55 psychologists for more than 100 000 prisoners. These rehabilitation programmes are few and far between,” she said.
Dawson said that while no definitive study had been undertaken in SA, anecdotal evidence suggested that a little more than 50 percent of people released from prison re-offend and are locked up again. “I doubt that it will be any different for this batch,” she said.