Prisoners seeking parole say they are being kept in jail unnecessarily and hundreds could have been released years ago if it were not for the correctional services’ dysfunctional, lethargic and even inactive parole system.
Prisoners have listed the names of inmates who have died of old age, years after they became eligible to submit parole applications, and did so to no effect.
However, Nkosinathi Breakfast, Eastern Cape correctional services commissioner, said by law “offenders sentenced to life after October 1 2004 must serve 25 years and be referred back to court”.
He did admit that some parole documents were missing, saying: “Yes, sentence remarks [the original court sentence ruling], SAP 62 and identity documents of some offenders [are missing].”
Some of those affected may be cold-blooded murderers and serial rapists, but many say they did complete the required rehabilitation programmes and had become enlightened and reformed citizens, which they wanted to place before the parole system.
The province has 376 prisoners waiting for their parole applications to be considered but the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) has a huge backlog due to shortages of documents and lethargic tracing of victims.
Prisoners who anonymously spoke to the Saturday Dispatch allege that scores had died waiting for their paroles and blamed prison officials for not considering their applications.
Of those waiting to be released from jail are 43 prisoners serving life at the Middledrift Correctional Centre, who were sentenced between 1993 and 2001.
These prisoners allege their sentence remarks (original sentence ruling from the court) had gone missing, further delaying the process.
At Middledrift prison alone, of the official DCS list of 36 lifers, 17 had outstanding sentence remarks, while some inmates’ reports were not available.
An inmate who is in his 12th year of a 20-year sentence said: “When the officials lose your sentence remarks, that can delay you for between two to five years before you are considered for parole.
“That’s the challenge we are facing. The sentence remarks will be outstanding for years and in all these prisons it’s the same thing.”
One inmate said he had met all the requirements and was due to be released – but nothing was happening.
“I’ve seen close to 10 inmates dying inside this jail while waiting to be released.
“I’ve been serving time and now I am over the eligible time to be released,” he said.
He listed inmates who had died as Siyabonga Dyantyi, Melumzi Mtsizana, Vuyisile Biko, Lizo Fuzile and Jongolizwe Msophi.
But Breakfast denied the deaths were due to any delays in parole considerations.
Dispatch has seen an official DCS document, titled Current Status for Lifers for Middledrift Correctional Services, compiled in April last year, which deals with the 36 prisoners who are eligible to apply for parole.
It reports on reasons why some of the inmates had their parole applications delayed. Some are:
- An inmate sentenced in 1993 whose profile was submitted for review in 2006 is still in jail because his support system outside prison was deemed “negative” and social workers were asked to intervene to help. His file was re-submitted last year in May, but has yet to be attended to;
- An inmate sentenced in 1995, whose parole profile was submitted by officials in 2008, only reached the Correctional Services Parole Board six years later in 2015, but was sent back to the case management committee (CMC) in August last year for “renewal of reports”;
- An inmate sentenced in 1996 who had his profile submitted in 2009 has had to wait while his documents were still being renewed by social workers;
- An inmate sentenced in 2000 had his profile submitted in 2013 and his documents were submitted to the National Council for Correctional Services, where he was told the Minister of Correctional Services had decided he could only submit his parole application two years down the track, in 2015. His application has yet to be considered.
- An inmate sentenced in 2000 had his profile submitted in 2013 but his sentence remarks were outstanding and the follow-up was only done last year.
To be considered for parole, an inmate must attend a number of DCS programmes, which focus on anger management, life skills and substance abuse.
Three months ago, Minister of Correctional Services Michael Masutha said some inmates were eligible for parole after serving 12 years and four months in jail.
He said it was important to state that a number of deliberations had to be taken into account before an inmate could be considered for parole:
- The rehabilitation process undertaken by the specific offenders;
- Interventions identified by professionals;
- The views of the victims and communities affected; and
- The threat the offender still posed to society. — firstname.lastname@example.org