Parole review moves step forward with consultations

Minister Masutha at parole roundtable

Minister Michael Masutha said the parole review should bring about a parole system
that is fair, just, workable, simple and each role player must know their role in the system.

Minister Michael Masutha held a roundtable with stakeholders on the review of the parole system in Cape Town on 29 May 2018. The review process, which started a few years back, is considering all aspects of parole, including upgrading case management committees, strengthening the administrative process, legislative amendments, medical parole, the relation to overcrowding and best practices in other countries.

In his address the evening before the stakeholder engagement, Minister Masutha said he has a keen awareness that DCS has by far not enough staff in correctional centres to give full credence to a correctional system, as opposed to a prison system.

He was furthermore convinced that the law governing the expungement of criminal records needs to be amended, especially for minor offences.

Minister Masutha said a big factor that results in litigation by offenders against the department is the time it takes from the moment an offender qualifies for parole to the time the offender receives an answer about his/her parole application. This challenge draws on the administrative and rehabilitation capacity of the department.

Since the beginning of his tenure, the Minister lamented the number of incomplete files that reach his desk and that he returns because it is not evident that the offender received interventions by social workers, psychologists, or that the offender participated or attempted to participate in a restorative justice process. The positioning of restorative justice within the department’s chain of corrective intervention needs to move to the beginning of the value chain, he said.

This view was underscored by a number of organisations such as Sonke Gender Justice, Africa Criminal Justice Reform (ACJR) and the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders (NICRO) who made written submissions to the department’s draft position paper on a revised parole system.

NICRO recommended that South Africa re-imagines justice in its totality, and rethink how the Criminal Justice System participates in the entire value chain of corrections.

ACJR made a case for reviewing the law on minimum sentences, especially life sentence, stating that South Africa experienced the fastest growth rate of lifers globally in the past 20 years. It cited a DCS indicator that there was a 4 400% increase between 1995 and 2016 in the number of offenders serving life sentences. The organisation further argued in its written submission that some studies suggested life imprisonment was not a deterrent to commit crime.

Sonke Gender Justice supported the recommendations of ACJR and added that the position paper has to include a comprehensive assessment of conditions in correctional centres and recommendations for improving this, stating, “it is next to impossible to rehabilitate inmates if there is insufficient staff to facilitate rehabilitation”, and it goes without saying that parole boards consider the rehabilitation ‘status’ of offenders when they make parole decisions. The organisation also found it amiss that the paper did not give evidence that parolees and ex-offenders had the opportunity to give inputs into assessing the efficacy of the current parole system, and the reintegration process.

A second round of stakeholder engagement is planned for September this year.


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