Johannesburg – The 190 00 prison inmates who will soon be released as a measure to combat the spread of Covid-19 will be eligible to apply for the social relief grant like other unemployed South Africans.
Justice Minister Ronald Lamola said as of this week there were 172 confirmed Covid-19 cases in Department of Correctional Services (DCS) facilities in the country.
This followed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement last week that inmates who have passed their minimum detention period will be released from prisons which were considered high-risk areas of infection as they were overcrowded.
It will lead to about 19000 inmates released before serving their full sentences. Ramaphosa said the decision was a response to a call by the UN to all countries to reduce prison populations so that social distancing and self-isolation conditions could be observed.
He said the most vulnerable inmates, such as those with underlying health problems, the elderly and women with infants, as well as those who committed crime in need such as shoplifting, theft and trespassing would be prioritised.
DCS spokesperson Singabakho Nxumalo said once released, parolees can also apply for the social relief grant like any other citizens.
“They (inmates) will be released after all the necessary processes have been followed. There must be a positive physical address and someone willing to accept the parolee at that address.
“The department will need to check if there is a support system. Like all other citizens, parolees can apply for social relief programmes and those will be considered by relevant entities,” he said.
Department of Social Development spokesperson Lumka Oliphant said the social relief fund was for everyone, except for those who already receive social grant or funds from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) stipends.
She said her department would support parolees through community corrections teams which would provide counselling.
“An applicant (of the social relief grant) should be unemployed and over the age of 18. Where required, social workers on the ground will be contacted for counselling.
“The social development Gender-Based Command Centre is also available to assist with counselling.”
Asked if the department was part of the decision to release the inmates, Oliphant said: “The department does not participate in the decision-making of the release of inmates except in parole processes where the department is represented in the National Council of Corrections that advises the minister on the processing of parole recommendations from parole boards.”
Political parties expressed mixed reactions on the impeding release of inmates.
DA spokesperson on justice and constitutional development Glynnis Breytenbach said the party did not support the release of prisoners, saying the government did not adequately explore all of its options on the matter.
“Many of the prisoners who stand to be released do not have families or homes to return to. Those who do, may well return to a home where there is already little or no food.
“Finding employment, difficult enough under the best circumstances for those with criminal records, will be impossible in the current economy.
“All of these factors will increase the possibility of re-offending,” the party said.
Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem said he supported the release of the inmates adding that they should not be denied the R350 social relief grant.
EFF spokesperson Vuyani Pambo said his party was in full support of the release of the prisoners and their accessing of the funds once they were out of prison to enable them to have food and clothing.
“These people receive food and clothes in prisons and they should also enjoy life even when they are out,” he said.