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Johannesburg - The number of prisoners serving life sentences has jumped by almost 2 400 percent since 1995, the National Council of Correctional Services said on Monday.
Judge Siraj Desai said there were 433 prisoners serving life sentences in 1995. The figure was now 10 314, a little over ten percent of the sentenced population.
He said this created problems on how these prisoners would be dealt with and added to the problem of prison overcrowding.
“What do you do to a lifer who enters the correctional system?” Desai asked.
“Ultimately and the reality is we are going to warehouse (them) in the cruellest sense of that word.”
Desai said that when the country ended the death penalty, it did not consider how it would deal with life sentencing.
Under the current law, such prisoners were eligible for parole after 14 years - only after they convinced authorities that they would not re-offend.
“The likelihood is he will re-offend, Unless we are satisfied there is a minimal likelihood of him re-offending, we will not recommend the release of that offender,” said Desai.
He was speaking in Boksburg at the national colloquium on overcrowding in prison centres.
Correctional Services Minister Sbu Ndlebele told delegates South Africa had the largest prison population in Africa, ranking number nine in the world.
South African had 310 inmates for every 100 000 people. By contrast Nigeria with a population of 166.3 million had only 31 inmates per 100 000 people.
Ndebele said about 30 percent of the prison population were “remanded detainees” - prisoners awaiting trial. - Sapa