COPE is calling on Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola to confirm or deny claims that former ANC leader in the Northern Cape John Block could be among the 19 000 prisoners due to be released on parole. The planned releases are part of the Department’s efforts to fight COVID-19 by easing overcrowding in prisons.

“Coronavirus can’t be used as a reason to release people who have committed very serious corruption in society. There is a rumour doing the rounds that Mr John Block who was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for corruption will also benefit from this mass release of 19 000 inmates. We want the Minister of Correctional Services Mr Ronald Lamola to either confirm or deny this rumour because it can’t happen that people who have done so much harm to society must be released on parole,” says COPE Spokesperson, Dennis Bloem.

Block, a former ANC Northern Cape Finance MEC, started serving his 15 year sentence for corruption in 2018 after the Constitutional Court rejected his attempt to appeal.

Early prison release

Lamola has said the relatively large number of prisoners infected with COVID-19 in East London and the Western Cape informed their decision to reduce the number of people in prisons.

He says the aim is to release inmates who do not pose serious health and safety risks. Lamola says inmates who will be released have undergone rehabilitation processes and are due to be placed on parole anyway.

He says the department is also looking at mechanisms to address the issue of awaiting trial detainees who have been granted bail but cannot afford to pay.

“The number of those that were supposed to be released within the 2 years or less is  14 393. Those are people that were supposed to be going in front of parole boards in this period, from today to 2 years. What we have done was just to request that we are allowed in terms of the Correctional Services Act in consultation with approval of the President to bring them for consideration of parole to the parole board,” he says.

President Cyril Ramaphosa approved the Justice Department’s request as it is in line with the United Nations’ call to governments to prevent foreseeable threats to public health as the world grapples with COVID-19.