Prisoners released under a special remission have been sufficiently rehabilitated to begin crime-free lives, prison authorities said on Friday.
Correctional Services Deputy Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi said the pardoned inmates undertook credible rehabilitation and pre-release programmes to help them cope outside jail.
“Amid fears expressed on the competence of our rehabilitation, correctional, and pre-release programmes, we are satisfied that the administration of the remission was a success,” he said.
“All offenders who benefited were exposed to a pre-release programme to prepare them for their re-integration back into society,” said Ramatlhodi.
The release of prisoners began three days after President Jacob Zuma announced a special remission of sentences at a Freedom Day rally on April 27.
A total of 43 789 offenders qualified for early release from the country's 241 prisons and systems of community correction.
Ramatlhodi said all government efforts to rehabilitate offenders would be in vain without the active participation of society.
“It calls for government and communities to join hands in finding ways to help those who have been released to become law-abiding and valuable citizens,” he said.
The last batch, constituting two percent of the total parolees, was released from different correctional facilities across the country on Friday.
On the day of his release, Mthuthuzeli Gontshi said he had attained numerous qualifications since he was sentenced to 14 years in 2005.
“Throughout my incarceration I attended different programmes. I did my matric here in prison, now I am in my final year of a B.Com Law (Bachelor of Commerce degree with specialisation in law) degree,” said Gontshi.
“Since 2005 I have attended HIV related programmes, psychological, and sexual orientation programmes. Throughout my incarceration I have learnt a lot,” he said.
Gontshi has been in custody since he was arrested in 2003 for hijacking a car.
“I hijacked a woman in 2003, it was on a Sunday the 2nd March,” he said apologetically.
By June 29, 90 of the released prisoners had been re-arrested, and of these, 20 had been sentenced. The longest term imposed was three years.
Of the remaining 70, two paid bail, one committed suicide, and 49 were being held awaiting trial. Another 18 had not returned to prison from the courts.
In announcing the special remission of sentences, Zuma said it was in keeping with the spirit of the celebration of the country's 18 years of freedom and in line with international practice.
He said there would be a six months blanket special remission of sentence for all sentenced offenders, probationers, and parolees.
There was a remission of sentences when former president Nelson Mandela was inaugurated on May 10, 1994; on the first Freedom Day on April 27, 1995; on Mandela's 80th birthday on July 18, 1998; and to mark the first year of former president Thabo Mbeki's second term in office on May 30, 2005. – Sapa