Former LeisureNet senior executives Peter Gardener and Rodney Mitchell were released from prison last month. Picture: Leon Lestrade

Cape Town - Health & Racquet fraudsters Peter Gardener and Rodney Mitchell got out of prison roughly 20 months into their seven-year jail terms largely thanks to President Jacob Zuma’s remissions announcement last year.

Gardener and Mitchell were the joint chief executives of LeisureNet, which operated the Health & Racquet gym franchise and which was liquidated in 2000.

The duo were convicted of fraud and in March 2011, after appealing against their 12-year sentences, they were each sentenced to seven years behind bars.

However, they served only roughly 20 months in the Malmesbury Medium A Correctional Centre. During their time there they set up a gym for inmates and officials.

Gardener and Mitchell are now serving alternative sentences.

The two started their sentence on March 31, 2011 and were released on November 28, 2012, Sabelo Mzanywa, Correctional Services’ commissioner for the West Coast Management Area, told the Cape Times on Thursday.

Mzanywa explained that any inmate could apply for a conversion of their sentence if the remainder of their sentence was five years or less.

However, in the case of Mitchell and Gardener, their seven-year sentences meant they still had more than five years jail time remaining.

Mzanywa said this was where Zuma’s remissions announcement fit in.

In April last year, Zuma announced remissions of sentences for some categories of prisoners and 43 789 offenders had qualified for early release.

Inmates who had not committed violent crimes would have 18 months shaved off their original prison sentences.

Mzanywa said this had applied to Gardener and Mitchell and the reduction of 18 months from the remainder of their sentences at that stage - five years and a few months - meant their sentences had dropped to below five years.

They therefore became eligible to apply for their sentences to be converted.

Mzanywa said this involved a case management committee, which compiled a profile of Mitchell and Gardener and took various factors into consideration.

The head of the correctional centre, in this case Mzanywa, then made recommendations to the Correctional Services Department’s regional office, which was passed on to the department’s head office.

“I’ve recommended that they are given to do their required 16-hour community service monthly in Malmesbury Medium A Correctional Centre in the gym,” Mzanywa said.

A decision was then given. In Gardener and Mitchell’s case it was decided they could be released.

The matter was passed on to a parole board which tabled the matter in a court.

The process was finally determined by the court after a “rigorous internal process”, Mzanywa said.

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Cape Times