Electronic Monitoring System progress; Department of Correctional Services on its 2nd quarter 2015/16 performance

This premium content has been made freely available

Justice and Correctional Services

18 November 2015
Chairperson: Ms C Pilane-Majake (ANC) (Acting)
Share this page:

Meeting Summary

The Department of Correctional Services explained that the electronic monitoring system was a way of tracking and recording an offender’s location and movements with a device, usually attached to the ankle, linked to global positioning system satellites, enabling rapid investigation of and response to suspicious movements by the tagged offender. It had several objectives, including reducing the number of offenders in the overcrowded prison system and mitigating the negative social effects of incarceration, particularly on first-time offenders. It could be used at every stage of the criminal justice process, from pre-trial, through primary sentencing to post-sentence stages. Initially, the department had planned to ramp up the speed of the roll-out each year, so that by 2017/18 10 000 would have been tagged. However, due to insufficient budget allocation (R28m in 2014/15 and R29m in 2015/16), this target had been revised, and it would now aim to add just 1000 more offenders each year. Inadequate human resources were the biggest problem. the per capita cost of incarceration was R350.50 per day, whereas the cost of electronic monitoring was just R192.00. This would amount to a yearly saving of R57 852.50 per capita per year. Unavailability of information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure was the most significant problem the department was currently facing.

Members were widely concerned about the ongoing problems with ICT infrastructure. They asked why the department needed more money for the programme if it was saving money; enquired into technical matters such as signal coverage, charging the tracking devices, their durability; and asked for clarity on how the system would be used in practice in the process of criminal justice. 

The Committee then was briefed on Correctional Services 2nd quarter performances. The department had 48 performance targets, of which 11 were only tracked on an annual basis and so would not be presented. Of the remaining 37, 24 had been achieved, which was an improvement over the first quarter. A breakdown of the achievements per programme was given. The Administration programme had achieved 5 out of 10 targets, Incarceration 7 out of 11, Rehabilitation 3 out of 4, Care 4 out of 5, and Social Re-Integration 5 out of 7. The financial report indicated that, at the highest level, 47.9% of the DCS 2015/16 annual budget of R20.6bn had been spent by the end of the second quarter, leaving R10.7bn still to be spent. The spending of each programme was detailed with reference to its spending plan: Administration was above its spending plan by R48m, Incarceration was R335m below, Rehabilitation was R45m below, Care was R63m above, and Social Re-Integration was R8m below. Underspending was in most cases linked to employee vacancies. Over-spending on goods and services had been a result of repairs and upgrades to the department's ageing fleet of vehicles.

Members noted that many of the problems the department was facing were linked to ICT infrastructure; expressed frustration at the apparently unhealthy relationship with the Department of Public Works; queried the high proportion of the budget allocated to the Incarceration programme; exhorted the department to solve its long-standing vacancy problem; and asked them to look at aligning their administrative regions with provincial borders.

Meeting report

Mr Zach Modise (National Commissioner, DCS) reported that an independent audit had been done by KPMG into the electronic management system (EMS) pilot project, and as a result the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services had asked the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to investigate. The department had begun operationalising the tender that had been awarded for the full rollout of the EM system. He then handed over to the Chief Deputy Commissioner for Community Corrections.

Department of Correctional Services presentation on the electronic monitoring system
Ms Pumla Mathibela, Chief Deputy Commissioner: Community Corrections, DCS, explained that the EMS was a way of tracking and recording an offender’s location and movements with a device, usually attached to the ankle, linked to global positioning system (GPS) satellites, enabling rapid investigation of and response to suspicious movements by the tagged offender. It had several objectives, including reducing the number of offenders in the overcrowded prison system and mitigating the negative social effects of incarceration, particularly on first-time offenders. It could be used at every stage of the criminal justice process, from pre-trial, through primary sentencing to post-sentence stages.

A pilot project had begun in 2012. The first offenders to be tagged were the so-called “Van Vuuren Lifers,” whose release posed a significant risk. By the end of the project, 288 offenders had been tagged. The full EMS had been rolled out in July 2014 with the tagging of 511 offenders. Currently, 748 out of a national target of 1000 offenders had been tagged. The Western Cape and Limpopo-Mpumalanga-North West region had both exceeded their targets. A central control room monitored all movements 24 hours a day, and alerts (for example, if a convicted paedophile went within a certain distance of a school or creche) were transmitted to local police for rapid response. It enabled much quicker detection than physical monitoring, and could be used to corroborate alibis when new crimes occurred.

Ms Mathibela said that initially, the DCS had planned to ramp up the speed of the roll-out each year, so that by 2017/18, 10 000 would have been tagged. However, due to insufficient budget allocation (R28m in 2014/15 and R29m in 2015/16), this target had been revised, and the DCS would now aim to add just 1000 more offenders each year. Inadequate human resources were the biggest problem. The per capita cost of incarceration was R350.50 per day, whereas the cost of electronic monitoring was just R192.00. This would amount to a yearly saving of R57 852.50 per person per year. If it was extensively implemented, therefore, the EMS would generate a significant saving. There were several other advantages of the EMS over incarceration. It would reduce overcrowding in prisons, prevent the negative psychological effects of incarceration on offenders and allow them to maintain employment and family relationships. These advantages far outweighed any disadvantages.

Ms Mathibela concluded by discussing some of the challenges they were facing and their proposed solutions. The unavailability of information and communication technology (ICT) infrastructure was the most significant problem, but they were finding that courts were not using the EMS as a primary sentence.

Discussion
Ms Pilane-Majake said there were some encouraging signs coming from the department, but was still deeply concerned that the department continued to face problems with their ICT infrastructure. The department could not continue to operate without its own dedicated server.

Mr J Selfe (DA) was also surprised and disappointed with this state of affairs. He requested more information about the awarding of the contract. Were we getting value for money?

Mr Modise asked if the department could come back to the Committee with a much more detailed presentation on the EMS once the SIU investigation had been completed. Then they could go into detail into the awarding of the contract and the ongoing ICT issues.

Ms Mathibela could confirm that the same service provider who had done the pilot project was being used in the full rollout.

Mr Selfe said he was a long-time supporter of electronic monitoring in principle, but worried that there were technical barriers that might still be standing in the way. For example, cellphone signal was unavailable in some regions of the country, so could we be sure that we would be able to track offenders at all times in all places?

Mr L Mpumlwana (ANC) was interested in whether the technology was reliable. Could it be interfered with?

Mr Selfe asked why, if electronic monitoring was cheaper than incarceration as the presentation suggested, was the department asking for additional funds from Treasury? He said it needed to re-prioritise funds from its Incarceration programme to EMS.

Mr Mpumlwana agreed. He felt that R29m for just 1000 tagged offenders was simply too expensive.

Mr J Smalberger (Chief Deputy Commissioner for incarceration, DCS) explained that currently, tagging was being used as an additional condition of parole, and it therefore represented an additional cost. The department was promoting its use as an alternative to incarceration, especially for offenders who would otherwise be serving sentences of fewer than 24 months, which is where the savings would come.

Mr Mpumlwana asked if the tracking technology could contribute to the prevention of crime, and how it protected victims.

Mr M Maila (ANC) wanted to know more about how the victim monitoring system worked.

Mr Ronald Ntuli (Director of Supervision, DCS) explained that the victim was issued with a device to track their location. This allowed the control room to know if the offender was approaching the victim.

Mr Mpumlwana wondered how tracking an offender at a central control room in Pretoria would help in deep rural areas.

Ms Mathibela explained that information from the central control room could be transmitted to local authorities, who could then act appropriately. This system had been shown to work well during the pilot phase.

Mr Ntuli added that EMS could be used to corroborate alibis.

Mr Mpumlwana asked whether EMS data had been tested as evidence in a court of law. He pointed out that speed trap images were not always admitted as evidence.

Mr Mpumlwana asked whether there was community acceptance of the EMS. Did victims feel safe?

Ms Mathibela said that the department had done stakeholder consultations before rolling out the EMS.

Mr Mpumlwana asked about charging the tag device. What happened in areas where electricity supply might be unreliable?

Mr Ntuli said that the device was issued with a solar charger.

Mr Mpumlwana asked if the implementation of the EMS depended on any non-governmental service provider. We should be careful of effectively privatising the system, he said.

Mr Maila suggested that market competition might bring down the price of the system.

Mr W Horn (DA) raised concerns about the system's ability to respond to tagged offenders who broke conditions. How many tagged offenders had re-offended? How many re-offenders had been sent back to correctional facilities?

Ms Mathibela replied that they did not yet have precise figures.

Mr Horn noted the small EMS caseload mentioned in the presentation. He asked if the department had considered working with the National Efficiency Enhancement Committee (NEEC) of the Office of the Chief Justice to encourage courts to use it as a primary sentence.

Mr Smalberger confirmed that DCS was part of the NEEC and they had done a presentation on the EMS to a sub-committee.

Mr B Bongo (ANC) said the Committee needed clearer information about costs.

Mr Modise said that more detail would be given in the financial report.

Mr Bongo asked for clarity on the role of courts in the implementation of the EMS. He understood that it was the responsibility of the DCS to implement it.

Mr Modise explained that electronic monitoring could be used by the courts as a direct sentence.

Ms Mathibela added that it could be used for awaiting trial prisoners.

Ms Pilane-Majake asked what had become of the department's old tracking system.

Ms Pilane-Majake asked for confirmation that the tags were durable, reliable and reusable.

Ms Mathibela confirmed that they were.

Ms Pilane-Majake asked what the unspent money from staff vacancies had been spent on.

Mr N Ligege (chief financial officer, DCS) explained that this money amounted to R849m, of which R43m had been shifted to the EMS. He referred the Committee to slides 17-20 of the financial report presentation.

Department of Correctional Services 2nd quarter performance report and financial report
Mr Joseph Katenga (Chief Deputy Commissioner: Strategic Management, DCS) stressed that the report was preliminary and the information it contained still needed to be validated. The department had 48 performance targets, of which 11 were only tracked on an annual basis and so would not be presented. Of the remaining 37, 24 had been achieved, which was an improvement over the first quarter. Mr Katenga gave a breakdown of the achievements by programme The Administration programme had achieved 5 out of 10 targets, Incarceration 7 out of 11, Rehabilitation 3 out of 4, Care 4 out of 5, and Social Re-Integration 5 out of 7.

Mr Nick Ligege, DCS CFO, presented the financial report. At the highest level, he indicated that 47.9% of the DCS 2015/16 annual budget of R20.6bn had been spent by the end of the second quarter, leaving R10.7bn still to be spent. They were expecting National Treasury to cut their budget for employee compensation by R30m due to vacancies, but the presentation had been prepared before this revision. He went through the spending of each programme with reference to its spending plan: Administration was above its spending plan by R48m, Incarceration was R335m below, Rehabilitation was R45m below, Care was R63m above, and Social Re-Integration was R8m below. Underspending was in most cases linked to employee vacancies. Over-spending on goods and services had been the result of repairs and upgrades to the department's ageing fleet of vehicles. Additional funds had been obtained for this purpose through virements within the programme. A shortage of manganese was a factor causing under-spending on capital assets. The EMS was part of the Social Re-Integration programme. Mr Ligege said he was committed to improving the department's budgeting processes, which he admitted had not been optimal in the past.

Discussion
Mr Horn was concerned that while the annual target for escapes was 39, there had already been 32 escapes in the first six months. Had there perhaps been one or two mass escapes? He thought it was going to be difficult for the department to meet its target.

Mr Horn observed that many of the targets not achieved could be traced back to ICT infrastructure.

Mr Modise admitted that they had had problems with ICT infrastructure, but he was hopeful that by the end of January 2016, the department would have procured the services it required.

Mr Horn said that the figures given for compensation of employees did not add up. He calculated that even if all vacant posts were compensated at entry level, there would be fairly significant over-spending on compensation.

Mr Horn was disturbed to hear that DCS still seemed to be having problems with the Department of Public Works (DPW). The relationship did not seem to be a healthy one, and it was not fair that DCS should have its budget put at risk because of the failures of DPW.

Mr Bongo recalled that there had been a memorandum of understanding between DCS and DPW. If there were still problems with the relationship, perhaps the Committee needed to be briefed on the challenges.

Mr Modise assured the Committee that he was well aware of the problems with DPW. A task team had been established with the DPW Director-General, and DCS had its own steering committee looking at the build programme.

Mr Mpumlwana was concerned about the very high proportion of spending on incarceration. It did not seem to be consistent with the department's stated commitment to finding alternatives to imprisonment.

Mr Maila agreed that the incarceration budget was too high.

Mr Modise said he was concerned about this too. DCS was looking at restructuring the budget to put more emphasis on Rehabilitation, Care and Social Re-Integration. He did point out, though, that the budget breakdown as presented was arguably skewed towards the Incarceration programme, because many of the people employed in that programme assisted with rehabilitation, for example by doing rehabilitation activities in prisons.

Mr Mpumlwana asked what the department's virement procedure was. Did the Chief Financial Officer just make a decision?

Ms M Mothapo (ANC) said that the vacancies continued to be a concern.

Mr Bongo was pleased that critical vacancies in senior management were being filled, but more still needed to be done at lower levels.

Ms Pilane-Majake agreed. South Africa had an unemployment problem and the department could help to address it.

Mr Modise said that the department did have a plan for addressing this problem, which he admitted was serious. He asked Mr Mokoena to elaborate on some of their specific measures.

Mr Teboho Mokoena, Chief Deputy Commissioner for Human Resources, DCS, said the department was holding job fairs to attract scarce skills. The first one would begin the next day in Goodwood, Cape Town, after which they would move to the Free State, the Eastern Cape, Polokwane, Kwazulu-Natal and finally Gauteng. The department was planning to expand its internship programme in the next financial year.

Ms Mothapo was concerned about the over-spending on Administration and the under-spending on Rehabilitation. She was worried about the possibility of fiscal dumping as the financial year drew to a close.

Ms Mothapo asked DCS to look into replacing their vehicle fleet, rather than repairing, which could become increasingly expensive.

Mr Bongo said that in the medium term, the department needed to look at aligning their administrative regions with the provincial borders. He thought that the current Mpumalanga-Limpopo-North West region was simply too big to manage effectively.

Mr Modise said that the department was looking at doing this. They had already made a submission to the Minister. They would be making a submission to the Deputy Minister too, and thereafter they would make a submission to the Committee.

Ms Pilane-Majake hoped that the department had a plan to keep inmates busy. It was a problem if they were just sitting around all day doing nothing. She observed that enrolment in training programmes was not that good, and thought agricultural and technical programmes might have more success.

The meeting was adjourned.

Share this page: