The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has come under scrutiny as 97 prisoners have been rearrested after being released through President Cyril Ramaphosa’s special remission process, which saw 16 472 inmates set free last year.
More than half of the rearrests were recorded in the Western Cape - where 53 of the 97 were readmitted to prison, according to a parliamentary reply.
Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, answered questions posed by DA MP, Janho Engelbrecht around the rearrests, on December 1, last year.
South African Sentenced and Awaiting Trialist Prisoners' Organisation (Sasapo) founder and chairperson, Phindile Zweni, said these are concerning figures and should not be used for politicking.
“All political parties take every opportunity that they can use against each for political gain or points, irrespective of the consequences, including the DA. All political parties are abusing their powers in other words.
Having said that, I, however, agree that a lot of these criminals that were released came back to prison shortly after they have been released because no proper assessments were made by DCS and not by the government in power. The government gave a remission for certain categories of prisoners and therefore it was, or is, the prerogative of DCS to make sure that inmates qualifying for parole should be only those that have showed remorse or has shown rehabilitation progress.
“So in short, it was or is the mandate of DCS to make sure that the right categories of inmates are released when remission is granted by government.
DCS are to blame for escapes, release of parolees who don't qualify and not government.
“I have been dealing with DCS for decades and can assure you that a lot is happening behind those closed walls,” said Zweni.
DCS spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo, said that they adhered to a legislated process during the implementation of the special remission of sentences.
“However, we have noted a political manoeuvring by some political parties in order to gain prominence.
Section (84)(2)(j) of the Constitution of South Africa provides powers to the President to pardon or reprieve offenders and to remit fines, penalties or forfeitures.
“In this instance, President Cyril Ramaphosa has approved the special remission of sentences for non-violent offenders in South Africa.
“There are currently 243 operational correctional centres and 218 community corrections, with an average of 212 286 inmates (154 153 incarcerated offenders and 58 133 correctional supervision and parolees under community corrections as at 01 July 2023), which translates to a 143% occupancy level and an overcrowding level of 43,06%.
“The loss of 3 024 bed capacity through a fire at Kutama-Sinthumule correctional facility has compounded the overcrowding situation by 4% percent, raising the overcrowding rate to 47.06%.
“It is critical to state that overcrowding in correctional facilities remains a challenge that continues to stretch resources and hamper efforts of rehabilitation.
“The 2023 Special Remission of Sentences was thus a measure to reduce overcrowding and as part of the positive outcomes of the rehabilitation and skills development programmes offered by the department. The rehabilitation programmes are rendered in line with correctional sentence plan per individual offender,” said Nxumalo.
The DA’s Engelbrecht said in a statement that former president Jacob Zuma was released hours after he was readmitted due to the special remission process.