Prison school on the cards?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cape Town - Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has hinted at the possible introduction of an exclusive educational facility for prisoners.

She said this in parliament on Thursday after revealing that scores of offenders were being released from the country's prisons every year only to go back and commit crime due to lack of skills to help them find jobs.

"It has been a painful realisation for me, as we have been processing the possible release of certain inmates serving life sentences... that some have never gained any skills or education during their long periods of incarceration," Mapisa-Nqakula said.

"Without exception, all these inmates were sentenced in their teens and are being released at the ages between 40 and 47 without ever having benefited from the educational and developmental programmes offered in facilities".

Mapisa-Nqakula said such an educational facility would assist inmates, especial those convicted for longer periods, with options to gain tangible educational skills they can use once released on parole.

Correctional services centres currently offer a variety of programmes for inmates like sewing, arts and carpentry but Mapisa-Nqakula said these were not effective as the intended beneficiaries were not participating.

"They just sit in their cells the whole day," she said. The minister said it will be important to also investigate how the department could start directing more funding to developmental programmes. "We are not here to castigate, even though these people have offended but they should have some skill when they leave our facilities," she said.

Meanwhile, Mapisa-Nqakula once again called on the speedy review of the medical parole rules as journalists brought the matter up during a media briefing. Central to the debate is a requirement for a terminally ill prisoner to be released on parole. According to the rules, an inmate only qualifies for a medical parole if it's proven that he/she was in the final stages of the sickness.

Mapisa-Nqakula argued that there were loopholes in the legislation as there were many prisoners who were still behind bars despite the fact that they were "gravely ill". "Some of them cannot do a thing for themselves," she said.

The minister also touched on the issue of convicted fraudster Schabir Shaik who was released on medical parole amid controversy. "Look, yes Mr Shaik was released and yes he is still alive because no day was set for him (to die) ... we don't know our day." she said, drawing laugher from reporters. "But after we received evidence last year that Mr Shaik had violated his parole conditions we downgraded him to category one; he knows now - one more mistake he is going straight back to jail," said Mapisa-Nqakula.