Durban - Minister of Correctional Services Sbu Ndebele has expressed concern at the growing number of women prisoners, most of whom have been incarcerated for drug trafficking.
Ndebele said in 2012/13 there were just under 2 000 female inmates in correctional centres nationwide, but this had more than doubled to 5 000.
“Their numbers are fast increasing and they are getting younger, with some as young as 15 years,” he said.
Ndebele was speaking at the opening of Qalakabusha Secondary School and FET College at the Empangeni prison as well as the launch of a book by an inmate on Tuesday.
“Most of these women don’t even realise they are (trafficking drugs), but it’s hard to prove to a judge that you didn’t know there were drugs in your luggage,” he said.
Although he did not have exact figures, he said the number of South African women jailed for drug trafficking in other countries was also on the rise and was a cause for concern.
A significant number of women were incarcerated for murdering their spouses or boyfriends, Ndebele added.
“This crime tends to be a build-up of… anger stemming from years of abuse and these women who have been abused just snap and that is when you hear a woman has stabbed her husband to death,” he said.
He said the large size of the country’s prison population and the number of repeat offenders was of grave concern.
Part of the problem stemmed from inmates being released without having skills to support themselves.
“In prison your life is run by the powers that be and if you cannot clothe and feed yourself when you are released you are bound to return to crime.”
There were 155 000 inmates in South African jails, of whom 68.51 percent were sentenced offenders and the rest were awaiting trial.
He said the upkeep of prisons cost the state a considerable sum and rehabilitation needed to take place to ensure inmates did not return.
“We are saying each inmate should at least leave the centres with some sort of skill and some sort of certificate so that they can get jobs when they are released or even be self-employed,” he said.
Qalakabusha inmates burst into cheers when Ndebele told them that four days would be shaved off their sentence every month that they read a book – the equivalent of 48 days a year.
“This is in order to transform inmates, this ensures that inmates leave the centres literate and better people,” he said.
Ndebele said this was part of his department’s Redemption Through Reading programme, which had been adopted from Brazil in an effort to reduce South Africa’s inmate numbers.