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Bid for early release to avoid Covid-19 in prison is rejected by court

A bid for early release of a prisoner has been declined: Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ANA Archives

A bid for early release of a prisoner has been declined: Picture: Oupa Mokoena/ANA Archives

Published Sep 8, 2020


Pretoria - AN INMATE serving a 25-year prison sentence for fraud and money laundering wants to be considered for parole due to his risk should he contract Covid-19 in prison.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic in South Africa, thousands of low-risk prisoners have been released early to alleviate overcrowding and thus curb the spread of the virus in prisons.

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A prisoner, identified in court as A Meyer, argued it was unfair as the elderly and sickly should also be released. Meyer turned to the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, to force the Department of Justice and Correctional Services to also release what he termed offenders at high risk of death, owing to their medical conditions should they contract coronavirus in prison.

Meyer said he suffered from high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and that prison life in the wake of Covid-19 was not conducive to his well-being.

He was sentenced in August 2017 to a concurrent sentence of 25 years. The sentencing court also ordered that he serves a non-parole detention period which is due to expire in February 2029.

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Meyer is classified as a maximum-security offender.

He told Judge Pierre Rabie that the need to expand the categories of parolees in the wake of Covid-19 arose from the threat to public health and safety.

He stated that the risk of contracting the disease in prison was extremely high and the probability of death for those who had comorbidities (additional medical conditions) was also high.

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Meyer said the category of prisoners determined by government which may be released was irrational. He said there was an obligation on the State to protect the right to life of all prisoners.

He stated that he was a low-risk offender and that after reductions, his sentence was calculated at 23 years. According to Meyer, his doctor earlier submitted a letter to the department, setting out the fact that he was on chronic medication for the treatment of high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

Meyer said he was no longer a young man (his age was not given) and, coupled with the fact that he was not healthy, he was a high-risk person. He said the risk was aggravated by Covid-19 in a prison environment.

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He said at the time of setting up his court papers on July 22, there had been three confirmed cases of Covid19 in the Medium C section of the Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Centre in Pretoria where he is being held.

Meyer argued that even if the nearly 19 000 eligible inmates as defined by the government were released, overcrowding still remained a problem in prison.

He further complained that no indication was given by the department or government that, except for physical distancing, any steps had been taken to secure older prisoners and those with comorbidities.

Meyer said it had not been shown how physical distancing would be achieved, considering that correctional facilities were overcrowded.

In turning down his application, Judge Rabie said in his view there was an impressively comprehensive and effective set of rules, procedures and actions in place to prevent, limit, detect, respond to and manage the spread of the disease in all correctional facilities.

He said the department’s risk-adjusted strategy introduced generic and specific areas of intervention. As part of the general measures adopted to curb the spread of the disease, a number of protocols had been introduced.

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