20-plus years jail terms up by 400% in 13 years

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June 29, 2017
20-plus years jail terms up by 400% in 13 years

CREDIT: File photo

With the number of prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment increasing by over 400% in the past 13 years, civic organisations say legislature and systematic flaws in the parole process are largely to blame and need to be reviewed.

At the weekend, the Department of Correctional Services noted “with grave concern” sporadic media reports of offenders serving life sentences threatening to cause chaos in correctional centres, due to systematic delays in processing parole placements.

“In the past 13 years, the number of offenders sentenced to imprisonment of 20 years and more increased by a staggering 439% while lifers grew by 413%,” Correctional Services said.

“This means there must be stringent processes in dealing with the growing numbers of lifers and their consideration for parole placement.”

Lawyers for Human Rights attorney Clare Ballard said: “After being eligible for parole, it can still take up to 10 years for a lifer to get parole.

“The process is extremely tedious. They have to go through the Parole Board, then the National Council for Correctional Services and then the minister makes the final decision.”

Another problem was the lack of psychological services. “They don’t hire enough social workers and psychologists, so it creates a bottleneck in the system.”

Sonke Gender Justice National Prisons specialist Ariane Nevin said crime rates haven’t changed much but people were staying in prison for longer because of the 1997 Mandatory Minimum Sentencing law.

“The law created a standard sentence of 20 plus years for certain crimes, so the judge cannot use his/her discretion.”

“While the law had good intentions upon its inception, it’s creating new challenges.”

Africa Criminal Justice Reform’s Lukas Muntingh agreed that the Mandatory Minimum Sentencing law needed to be reviewed. “In 1995 we had 400 lifers, we now have 18000.”

Correctional Services National Commissioner, Zach Modise said: “Offenders have the right to raise concerns, but it cannot be acceptable that they disrupt operations without any consequences.

“Safety and security is of paramount importance.”

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