2 June 2005

South Africa: Thousands to Walk Free As Balfour Sets Terms for Remissions

Johannesburg — THOUSANDS of prisoners will be released from prisons in three weeks' time as the correctional services department begins implementing special remission of sentences, Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour said yesterday in Cape Town.

There will be remission of up to 20 months of a prisoner's sentence depending on the crime committed.

The remission of sentences will help reduce the country's prison population of 180000, housed in prisons built to accommodate 114000.

Under the amnesty announced by Balfour yesterday, six months' remission of sentence will be granted to prisoners, including those on parole, irrespective of the crime.

An extra 14 months will be granted to those guilty of crimes other than violent crimes, which include murder, robbery, domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Balfour said the first two weeks would be put aside for administrative work and for counting and identifying offenders who qualified for remission.

Spokesman Manelisi Wolela said women, youths, children, people older than 65 and the disabled would be the first to be released, from June 13.

"The only people to be released during the first two weeks are those serving their sentences under correctional supervision in community corrections, to create space for those to be released from the third week onwards from correctional centres to community corrections," Wolela said.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) said the across-the-board remission sent out the wrong message.

"It undermines the deterrence of imprisonment, it trivialises the sentences of courts and it is a slap in the face for the hundreds of thousands of victims of crime in SA," the DA's James Selfe said.

He accused Balfour of emptying prisons to make room for awaiting-trial suspects.

"The presence of 51000 awaiting-trial detainees in our prisons (roughly 30% of the total number of inmates) is the real problem that government steadfastly refuses to solve," said Selfe.

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