Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola has declined to confirm or deny reports that government intends to release thousands of prisoners incarcerated for petty crimes as part of efforts to fight COVID-19 and ease overcrowding in prisons.

Lamola was briefing Parliament’s justice oversight committee virtually. Asked by some MPs about the matter, he said the matter was receiving attention.

There have been calls for prisoners who have been jailed for petty crimes to be freed to ease overcrowding in prisons. This, as more and more inmates and officials continue to test positive for COVID-19.

There are over 150 cases of COVID-19 in Correctional Services involving both inmates and officials.

In the video below, Johannesburg prison warder allegedly tests positive for COVID-19:

In April, the Department of Correctional Services slammed attempts of a nationwide jail hunger strike.

The South African Prisoners Organisation for Human Rights (SAPOHR) had said prisoners were planning to go on strike, demanding an early release of some inmates to deal with overcrowding amid the growing fears over the spread of COVID-19 in jails.

But the Correctional Services Department has rejected this as irresponsible and reckless mobilisation efforts to instigate inmates to revolt against the state.

Only one inmate at Baviaanspoort Medium Correctional Centre, in Gauteng, was then reported to have “become disruptive” following the threat of a strike. He was said to have laid on his back, refusing to move into his cell.