More than 50% of inmates waiting for court

Minister Ronald Lamola told the parliamentary portfolio committee about overcrowding in SA's prisons.
Minister Ronald Lamola told the parliamentary portfolio committee about overcrowding in SA's prisons.
Image: 123RF/ALLAN SWART

More than 50% of inmates in correctional facilities are still awaiting their day in court.

Justice & correctional services minister Ronald Lamola appeared before the parliamentary portfolio committee on Wednesday and told of overcrowding in SA's prisons.

This is despite President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement of a remission of sentences in December last year, with a large number of prisoners released early, and this year's parole approval forced by the Covid-19 outbreak.

"The rate of imprisonment in our country for awaiting-trial offenders is increasing at a rate which requires us to interrogate the linkages in our criminal justice systems," Lamola said.. "Our bed spaces currently sits at 118,572, whereas we have a total of 149,330 inmates with 96,272 sentenced inmates and 53,058 remand detainees".

"In other words, 55.1% of our inmate population are yet to have their day in court."

He said the large number of remand detainees was a reflection of the country's socio-economic conditions.

Lamola said the majority of the prison population were people from disadvantaged backgrounds, in particular, young black males. "Some are in our centres for economic crimes such as shoplifting, stealing and robbery. There are also those who have committed heinous crimes.

"The high number of those who have committed economic crimes has prompted us to ask ourselves whether incarceration should be the only option at our disposal. .sentences for such crimes are short term, thus resulting in sentenced offenders not benefiting from effective rehabilitation from correctional centres."

He said overcrowding was a challenge and Covid-19 had made the matter more urgent.

The department was creating space for an additional 3,000 beds but this may not solve the problem because of the high crime rate, he said.

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