Ultimatum set for prison strike

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IOL news jan 25 prisoners

Independent Newspapers

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Durban - The KZN correctional services commissioner has been given until the end of the month to profile all prisoners in the province serving life sentences imposed on them before October 1, 1994, for parole.

Last week, prisoners in KwaZulu-Natal vowed to embark on a hunger strike to protest as they felt the parole board was not reviewing their cases. They also threatened violence across prisons in the province.

The call for the hunger strike was made by prisoners at New Prison in Pietermaritzburg. One hundred prisoners are serving life sentences at New Prison.

Since last week, KZN correctional services commissioner Mnikelwa Nxele has held several meetings with prison heads to avert the crisis.

On Friday the strike was averted when prisoners gave the parole board 21 days to compile their profiles and make recommendations to the minister.

Yesterday, Nxele met the prisoners at New Prison and reassured them that all those who were sentenced before October 1, 1994, were being reviewed for parole. He said 17 profiles had already been submitted to the minister’s office for consideration.

In 2010, the Constitutional Court ruled that all inmates sentenced to life before the introduction of the 20-year minimum detention period on March 1, 1994 (implemented in October) were to be considered for parole.

Complaints

Siphamandla Zwane, of the Civil Rights Organisation for the Prison Population (Crop), said he had received complaints from prisoners at Waterval Prison, near Newcastle, Ncome in Vryheid, Westville Prison, Empangeni and New Prison in Pietermaritzburg.

He said on Friday, prisoners at Empangeni had refused to take their meals.

“An emergency support team was set up to monitor the prisoners. Fortunately, by the afternoon the strike was called off.”

He said the hunger strike had been averted until the end of the month.

The KZN Department of Correctional services denied the threats of a hunger strike by prisoners. It said the situation was normal at all prisons and prisoners were eating.

“I have spoken to some of the inmates at New Prison and they are satisfied with the assurances they have received from Mr Nxele. They are still of the view that the parole board had failed in doing its job. But they will wait until the end of February to see if there are any new developments. They just want to know that Mr Nxele is pushing to have their applications reviewed.”

On Tuesday, Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele said he was considering the parole applications of more than 300 inmates sentenced to life imprisonment.

The chief deputy commissioner for incarceration and corrections, James Smalberger, said parole applications were first considered by a case management committee.

They then went to the correctional supervision and parole board (CSPB) before the National Council on Correctional Services (NCCS) reviewed the applications for consideration by Ndebele.

The CSPB is chaired by Judge Siraj Desai and comprises 17 other officials, including judges, magistrates, attorneys, clinical psychologists, social workers, professors, officials, and medical doctors.

“Upon receipt of advice and recommendations from the NCCS, the minister exercises due consideration,” the department said.

“The Department of Correctional Services is mandated by law to manage and maintain a system of parole applicable to sentenced offenders. Parole is not a right, and is always subject to specific conditions which an offender must comply with.”

Smalburger said prisoners needed to be patient as it was not a simple administrative process to consider them for parole. He said threats of a hunger strike would only delay the processes further.

“It just tells us that these prisoners may not be ready for parole, after all.”

He said for now, parole applications of prisoners who were sentenced between October 1994 and 1999 were being considered.

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