The Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) has condemned the release of almost 19 000 prisoners on parole, saying it undermines the criminal justice system.

Justice Minister Ronald Lamola has provided details of the announcement made by President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Lamola says serious offenders like rapists and murderers will not be eligible.

The World Head Organisation (WHO) had urged countries to reduce prison populations to curb the spread of COVID-19 in jails.

FF Plus Leader Pieter Groenewald says his party does not agree with the rationale used by Correctional Services.

“The FF Plus condemns the principle that prisoners are released due to the overpopulation of prisons, because it undermines the criminal justice system. The government is letting the people of South Africa down by not building enough prisons and as a result, criminals are now being released into our society on early parole. The FF Plus insists that parole boards must adhere strictly to the legal prescriptions when they make decisions about granting parole and the Minister of Justice must not interfere in the process. It could pave the way for irregularities, like favouring persons who do not deserve to be released on parole.”

Contrary to the FF Plus’s stance on the matter, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) has welcomed government’s decision.

The low-risk inmates, who have served their minimum detention period, will be released on parole and the process will be in effect over the next 10 weeks.

Minister Lamola has assured the public that parolees who violate their release conditions will have their parole revoked. He says the decision was made in order to help flatten the curve …

“We are not oblivious to the concerns of society towards releasing offenders before their expiry dates. We arrived at this decision after careful consideration of facts before us. This measure is aimed at protecting the entire spectrum of South Africa from the COVID-19 pandemic, we cannot afford to falter, we must flatten the curve and preserve lives. Should the parolees display behaviour that is in conflict with the law and erodes public confidence on their rehabilitation, we will not hesitate to revoke their parole and incarcerate them. This is a conditional parole.”

As OF Friday, there are 177 COVID-19 cases in SA’s correctional services centres, with the Eastern Cape at the top with 66 infections.

Below is the breakdown of the latest numbers in SA’s correctional services centres: