Parolees who reoffend after their release on remission bring the name of Correctional Services and other parolees into disrepute. These are the sentiments of Justice and Correctional Service Minister Ronald Lamola.
He was responding to the debate on his department’s budget vote during a virtual mini plenary session.
The cost to maintain inmates, budget cuts, rehabilitation and the transfer of convicted prisoners to their countries in the SADC region, also came under the spotlight during the debate.
Lamola tabled the budget vote of his department for the current financial year. One of the criticisms that the department faced is around inmates who have been released on parole last year and are back in prison.
More than 19 000 prisoners were released on remission last year to reduce overcrowding and curb the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.
Lamola told MPs that parolees who reoffend are denting the image of his department and other prisoners who have been released on parole.
“We regret the 126 reoffending by some of the parolees. These people give us a very bad name because we always say to the parolees when we release them to the public that they must be good ambassadors of the department, they must not bring shame, they must not bring the department and the name of parolees into disrepute, but 14 000 of them still comply.”
During the debate, the Economic Freedom Fighters said it costs more to keep an inmate in jail than to ensure young people get a good education. This, as Lamola also faced criticism for overcrowding in prisons and poor rehabilitation of inmates in some correctional facilities.
EFF MP Yoliswa Yako said, “Keeping these prisons overflowing with Black people is of no concern to you and the government you represent. It is reported that it costs R390 just to keep one prisoner in jail. This translates to about R11 700 a month to maintain just one inmate in jail. This is over R140 000 per year.
“Despite this, the Judicial Inspectorate of Correctional Services reported that many inmates do not even have prison uniform. Some sleep on the ground (and) that in other centres, there were leaks when it’s raining, that the food inmates eat is such poor quality that it threatens their health. But even more, keeping someone in jail costs more than just ensuring that young people get access to good education.”
Offenders from SADC
Still, on the issue of reducing the prison population, the Democratic Alliance’s Werner Horne is concerned that government has failed to transfer convicted prisoners to their own countries in the SADC region despite the fact that the law makes provision for such transfers.
“The Minister must make the transfer of convicted offenders who are citizens of other SADC countries a reality. Despite the fact that the number of convicted offenders housed in our facilities, who are citizens of other SADC countries, far outnumbers the number of South Africans host in the prisons of SADC countries. No real attempts have ever been made by this government over the years to transfer these prisoners to their own countries although the law allows for this to happen.”
‘More criminal activities’
The African Christian Democratic Party’s Steve Swart cautioned that the Correctional Services budget cut and staff reduction in correctional prison facilities could make prisons unmanageable and lead to more criminal activities in prisons.
“Staff numbers are said to decrease from 37-thousand-836 in the present year to 36-thousand-808 in the outer year of 2023 to 2024. Now the ACDP is concerned that as a result of these staff reductions a high inmate-to-official ratio will make it extremely difficult to manage facilities and may and will give rise to violence, smuggling of contrabands and unnatural deaths.”
On issues of rehabilitation, African National Congress MP Richard Dyantyi came to the defence of the Correctional Services rehabilitation programme. Dyantyi emphasised the importance of rehabilitation despite some of the challenges.
“From the birth of our Democracy, we set ourselves ambitious and yet necessary goals consistent with the founding values of our Constitution, in particular human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms, we have chosen the path of corrective rehabilitation. We believed in it, then and we still believe in it today. As we shall demonstrate later, the progress on this noble goal is not without problems. Honourable Minister, the Deputy Minister, the honourable Niewoudt (Druchen), Xola ( Nqola) and others have already shared some of the strides we have made. We are in a country that those who are supposed to be in jail, are in jail.”