Change on the cards for medical parole law

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pretoria - The country's laws that govern medical parole are up for a major overhaul, if the recommendations by a task team currently reviewing the medical parole policy are supported by Parliament.

The team, led by well-known law expert, Judge Siraj Desai, released its draft report on Tuesday recommending that certain changes be made particularly to Section 79 of the Correctional Services Act.

It recommended, among other things, that a parole be reviewed anytime should an offender's health improve while they are out on medical parole. Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula appointed the task team after loopholes were spotted in the Act.

One of the challenges in the application of the Act was the fact that medical practitioners found it difficult to classify all inmates as "being in the final phase of any terminal disease or condition".

This has led to many bedridden inmates ending up failing to qualify for placement on parole under the provision of the law. "This is despite that their human dignity was seriously impaired by their continued incarceration in such circumstances," said Mapisa-Nqakula.

At least 74 deaths had been reported in SA's prisons since 1 January this year.

Also in terms of the current legislation, it was difficult to bring offenders back to correctional facilities should their condition drastically improve. "In terms of the current legislation it is not clear how to determine qualifying people to be released on medical parole," the minister said.

A fierce debate is still raging following the release of convicted fraudster Shabir Shaik last year after serving only two of his 15-year prison term.

"A number of questions have been asked about the decisions we have made as the department in releasing people on medical parole," Mapisa Nqakula said.

She said tackling diseases such as HIV and AIDS on correctional facilities had not been easy, including determining the correct approach in dealing with such cases in matters concerning medical parole.

The recommendations will be sent to Parliament once all the stakeholders have had an opportunity to air their views.