Life prison rape robbery

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Remissions: How cutting jail sentences for 9% of SA’s prisoners will work

The government announced on Monday that over 14 000 prisoners will be granted “remissions”, cutting their jail time – here’s what will happen.

Life prison rape robbery

Man in handcuffs Image: Adobe Stock

On the Day of Reconciliation, Cyril Ramaphosa made a promise to cut the sentences of thousands of prisoners across Mzansi. Announced by the Justice Minister Ronald Lamola, it was confirmed that about 9% of South Africa’s inmate population could be placed in remission – allow us to explain:

What is a remission?

The President uses the powers vested in him by the Constitution and the Correctional Services Act to grant remissions which effectively means cutting the sentence short. It also means fast-tracking the dates upon which an inmate will be placed on parole, subject to meeting a set criteria based on good behaviour or conduct. It differs from a pardon, as it still acknowledges a crime has been committed.

  • Remissions will begin this week. Selected offenders will have to submit their biometrics and DNA to SAPS.
  • Around 70% of the inmates being considered for remission have already been granted parole or probation.
  • There are some exceptions: You cannot be put forward for this exemption if you’ve been sentenced for sexual offences, armed robbery, child abuse, sabotage / treason / terrorism, or (attempted) murder.
  • Those with life sentences won’t get any remission, and inmates certified as “mentally ill” won’t be considered.
  • Female, youth and disabled offenders make up the majority of remission candidates.

The method behind the proposals

For many, the thought of one in 11 prisoners being granted shorter sentences is a little daunting. South Africa is blighted by crime, and there’s a general consensus that the authorities are struggling to preserve law and order. But, according to Lamola, there is no need to panic about the inmates set for an earlier release date:

“What should be noted is that more than two-thirds (71.3%) of beneficiaries to be considered for the 2019 presidential review of sentence expiry dates are already in communities as parolees and probationers, and not in correctional facilities. In terms of inmates within correctional centers, less than 10% (8.99%) of the total inmate population of 163 015 will be considered.”

“Of those to be considered in correctional facilities, the greater part of the eligible 14 647 inmates are closer to their parole consideration dates. Therefore, should they be granted parole, they will be released into the system of community corrections as parolees and will be closely monitored by correctional services officials.”

Ronald Lamola

Cyril Ramaphosa on remissions for prisoners

The president spoke at length on the issue yesterday. He said that coming to such a decision is nothing new, and stated that former Presidents Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki had done the same thing. His ceremonial gesture could change thousands of lives across South Africa – including that of Kanya Cekeshe:

“Remissions of sentences are always carefully considered, taking into account interests of the public and the administration of justice. We recognise that incarceration has followed a judicial process and that sentences have been duly imposed after conviction: Previous remissions were granted to coincide with important national days.”