Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said his department had no information that confirmed the number of remand detainees languishing in prisons because they couldn’t afford to pay bail.
However, Lamola said 4 495 remand detainees out of 55 745 were detained with an option to bail, and 2 728 were granted bail of R1 000 and less as at the end of March this year.
He was responding to a parliamentary question from EFF MP Yoliswa Yako, who asked about the number of remand detainees in custody because they cannot afford the bail amount granted by courts.
Yako also enquired about the amount spent by his department on the upkeep of these detainees, and their impact on the overcrowding of prisons.
“It should be noted that no information is available that explicitly confirms that the remand detainees granted bail are still in detention due to inability to pay bail,” Lamola said in his written response.
“As at 31 March 2023, the total population of remand detainees was 55 745, of this number 4 495 were detained with the option of bail which constitutes of the total remand detainee population.
“A total of 2 728 were granted bail of R1 000 and less while 1 767 were granted bail that ranged from more than R1 000 up to R4 million,” he said.
In February, the Cape Times reported that the Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons (JIP)was mooting bail funding for prisoners who could not afford to pay bail of less than R1 000 because of their financial conditions.
Inspecting Judge Edwin Cameron was quoted as saying the bail fund was partly modelled on funds operating successfully in several American jurisdictions.
“We hope to take what is good in bail funding and hope to evade the potential difficulties,” he said.
Cameron said they were worried about the high number of remand detainees.
At the time South Africa had more than 150 000 prisoners, the highest number on the continent.
Cameron said there was a provision in the statutes that says people could be kept in prison for awaiting trial for two years and a magistrate could give a special order.
“You find that there are still a significant number of people who stay longer than two years, sometimes even up to five or more years.”
JIP found that there were 1 884 remand detainees who could not afford bail of less than R1 000.
Cameron said a prison head had informed JIP that it cost the state R10 000 per prisoner per month and R330 a day.
He revealed that JIP has instituted a feasibility study that was conducted by the Bertha Institute at the UCT to look into the fund that will provide a source of funds for accused persons who cannot afford to bail when granted by the courts.