Cape Town — Plans are in place to reduce overcrowding at Correctional Services centres, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Michael Masutha said on Wednesday.
The Minister was briefing journalists ahead of tabling the Correctional Services Budget Vote in the National Assembly, in Parliament.
He said national overcrowding currently stood at 137%, a figure that varies from centre to centre.
"Plans are in place to introduce measures that would reduce overcrowding by way of relocating offenders from overcrowded to less crowded centres, while effecting necessary and urgent infrastructural improvements and necessary expansion to realise more bed space in response to an ever rising need," he said.
The Minister said a continued increase in offender population has presented unavoidable challenges of overcrowding at correctional services facilities over the years.
Recently, in 2016, non-governmental organisation Sonke Gender Justice brought a case of overcrowding at Pollsmoor Correctional Centre near Tokai in the Western Cape.
Minister Masutha said the case once again highlighted the problems that overcrowding creates towards ensuring safe custody premised by humane conditions.
"We need to highlight that we have reduced overcrowding in Pollsmoor to at least 157%, much closer to an order of the Western Cape High Court of 150%," he said.
Shorter-term sentences on lock-down
The Minister said, meanwhile, that while the number of offenders who have been given longer term sentences were on the rise, those that were being given shorter sentences were on a decline.
"In the past 13 years (2003 - 2016), sentences between six and 12 months decreased by 51% and those between 12 to 24 months plummeted by 71%.
"What is even then worrying is that sentences between 10 and 15 years increased by 77%," he said.
The Minister said the number of offenders sentenced to 20 years and above increased by a 439%, while lifters grew up by 413%.
This, the Minister said, was unfortunately an indication that South Africa is becoming an increasingly violent society.
The figures, the Minister said, were indicative of the fact that there is an urgent need to create additional bed space and to take extra levels of care on the existing infrastructure, which is dilapidating due to limited maintenance.
"I have seen many of our regions taking advantage of offender labour to do some of the critical maintenance work, and this must be applauded," the Minister said.
Department to manufacture and distribute sanitary towels to young girls
The Minister said, meanwhile, that the department would play an active role in assisting young girls who, at times, miss school because they cannot afford sanitary towels.
In October, the department was granted full patent rights for a sanitary pads machine that was invested by Johan Piek, a Correctional official from the Leeuwkop Production Workshop.
"This machine will enable us to make a much needed contribution to society and bring back dignity in our young women.
"At Boksburg, 25 offenders successfully completed their training in horticulture and the centre continued to produce accredited artisans to the tune of 35 in 2016 alone," the Minister said.