30/04/2012 Attie Swarts, a prisoner at Pretoria Central excited when they were visited by members of the media. Picture: Oupa Mokoena

President Jacob Zuma’s Freedom Day announcement to cut the sentences of many prisoners by six to 18 months is flawed, say prisoners themselves.

The move, applied specifically to those serving time for non-violent crimes, wouldn’t solve overcrowding or induce inmates to commit fewer crimes, said some Pretoria Central Prison inmates.

“It is useless, because these criminals will be back in here in no time,” said lifer Sipho Lindani. He and other prisoners said the Presidency should change its strategy because petty criminals did regular “visitations” to jail.

Those who were in for “hard crime”, they said, never benefited from any pardon from the state, despite the rehabilitative programmes they went through and their commitment to improving the community around them.

Sibongile Nkabine said she had 55 days left on her sentence, and while she was extremely happy to be going home, she said it was highly unfair for those inmates who had worked hard inside prison, excelling in the programmes they went through, acquiring skills and working effectively with youth programmes.

She said: “We work together and we all know how rehabilitated they become. The system should not be leaving them out of a chance to go back into the community to live a normal life.”

Margo Gouws, who was arrested for drug trafficking, said yesterday: “I do not qualify for remission and right now I am stressed and depressed and suffer from anxiety because I know that no crime is better than another.”

On Saturday, Minister of Correctional Services Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the remission, which qualifies 20 855 for immediate release, would have a major impact on the current overcrowding of prisons, which was crippling the state. Pretoria Central is 180 percent overcrowded.

Pretoria area commissioner Zeblon Monama said: “Those who committed economic crimes, between zero to five years, will be released immediately, but those for crimes like fraud, violent and aggressive crimes will remain here.” He said a responsible system was being used to identify deserving criminals.

The first group will be released by May 13, and the rest by the end of July. They would go through the required pre-release programmes, Monama said.

Opposition to the announcement by the president has been coming in since the announcement was made, with the DA saying it undermined the judicial processes, independence and the considerations made by judges when handing down sentences.

The Azanian People’s Organisation said the blanket remissions were being used as a diversion for Zuma to reprieve his former financial adviser and personal friend Schabir Shaik.