Cape Town - Correctional Services Minister, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, has acknowledged that overcrowding in South African prisons is a serious issue for her department, one that can not only be addressed through the building of new facilities.
"The real solution lies in the success of our rehabilitation programmes, the managed release and re-integration of offenders as well as the integration of processes within the criminal justice system," she said in parliament on Thursday.
While evidence points to the inadequate number of facilities, large numbers of awaiting-trial prisoners also appear to be a major reason behind the country's grossly overcrowded prisons.
Now Mapisa-Nqakula has appointed a ministerial task team to conduct an audit of various categories of inmates with a view of determining the status of those appearing before parole boards and the reclassification of their sentence. Another option would be to reclassify some sentences, review the bail protocol and the conversion of minor sentences into correctional supervision.
"The task team will also audit various categories and status of vulnerable inmates including the elderly, inmates with psychiatric problems, children and women," Mapisa-Nqakua said during her department's budget vote.
She said with the data at her disposal, it should be possible to implement provisions of the law in terms of the release of first time offenders convicted for minor crimes and with bail of less than R1000.
Public Works Department recently handed over to Correctional Services a 3000 bed correctional centre situated in Kimberley. The minister said the facility, which currently has just over 200 inmates occupying it, will be operated fully by her department. She admitted that the department had been slow in transferring inmates into the facility in order to manage overcrowding in other prisons.
"We have identified that there are small centres with an inappropriate high inmate/staff ratio. We have tasked an audit of these facilities in order to develop a plan for the possible rationalization of such facilities to ensure optimum deployment of both financial and human resources".
The department will procure four new facilities through a pubic private partnership signed last year.