Community Supervision, Parole Boards and APOPS: Correctional Services Department briefing

NCOP Security and Justice

26 October 2004
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Meeting Summary

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Meeting report


26 October 2004

Acting Chairperson:
Mr S Shiceka (ANC)

Document handed out:
Presentation on Asset Procurement and Operating Partnership Systems.
Presentation on Supervision (Probation and Parolees)
Presentation on Parole Boards

The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) briefed the Select Committee on community supervision, parole boards and Asset Procurement and Operating Partnership Systems (APOPS). The Department employed 1 787 correctional officials and 165 social workers. The per capita cost of keeping a person in prison was R103.69 per day and the per capita cost of keeping a person in the 'community corrections system' was R10.21 per day. Members asked questions about litigation by rejected parolees; whether awaiting trial prisoners should be the responsibility of the Department; about community supervision of parolees and gangsterism in prisons. The Minister had pledged to put an end to gangsterism.

The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) briefed the Committee on community supervision, parole boards and Asset Procurement and Operating Partnership Systems (APOPS). The Department was represented by Minister N Balfour, Mr P Cunningham (Chief Deputy Commissioner: Finance), Mr VJ Mooi (Deputy Director: Parliamentary Liaison) and Ms Moodley (Deputy Commissioner).

Mr Cunningham presented on APOPS and Ms Moodley made the presentation on parole boards and supervision. South Africa's only two public-private partnership (PPP) prisons were located at Bloemfontein in the Free State and at Makhado in the Limpopo Province. Both prisons had similar contractual arrangements and were now fully operational. They had been established to help the Department acquire additional accommodation and to pursue knowledge, expertise and best practices provided by the business sector.

'Correctional supervision' was a community-based sentence served by the offender in the community under the control and supervision of correctional officials and/or volunteers. Such offenders were subjected to conditions set by the court or the Parole Boards in order to protect the community and prevent relapse into crime. Persons who were serving sentences of Correctional Supervision were called 'probationers'.

Parole referred to that portion of the sentence of imprisonment which was served in the community under the control and supervision of correctional officials subject to conditions which had been set by the Parole Boards. Correctional and parole supervision were collectively referred to as Community Corrections.

Mr M Mzizi (IFP) noted that the DCS decided to invite proposals from leading advisors representing teams of suitably qualified and experienced financial, technical and legal advisors to assist it to formulate and negotiate improved value for money changes to the contracts. The changes would result in a net benefit to the DCS in respect of fee payment over the life of the contracts and cash flow benefits and a lower cost per prisoner per day. He asked what a lower cost per prisoner meant in real terms. He asked if a person whose application for parole was rejected had a right to appeal and to whom that person should appeal. There was a need to make use of community builders in addition to social workers. He asked if the Department had sufficient funds to support community builders.

The Minister replied that the PPP prisons were not properly researched and hence the Department was engaged in a feasibility study for the facilities. The Department had also visited some other countries to study the various models that they had. There was a need to come up with a South African model because international models might not work well in South Africa. There would be disparities between correctional centres and the two PPP prisons.

With regard to refused applications for parole the Minister said that it was normal for some applications to be refused. The DCS faced more court cases than the Department of Health. Almost every prisoner whose application for parole was refused took the Department to court and the courts rejected most of the applications. The Minister had always advised prisoners not to take matters to the courts but to make new applications to the parole Board. He referred to the Ncamazana case wherein Ncamazana was released on parole in the Eastern Cape. The following day he went to commit a terrible crime. Another person was released in the Northern Cape and went on to murder a priest. One would never know for sure how a person would behave upon release on parole and what pushed them to do certain things.
Mr D Worth (DA) observed that the per capita cost of keeping a person in prison was R103.69 per day in DCS facilities. He asked what the cost was in PPP prisons and if there was any way in which the Department could bring the cost down. He said that it was common for prisoners to take the Department to court based on the decision of the Parole Board to refuse them release on parole. He asked if the Department or the Board was liable in cases where an offender was released on parole and went on to commit another crime. There was a suggestion of a traceable bracelet that would be put on by a parolee so that they would not abscond. He asked how far the Department had gone with the suggestion.

Mr Balfour replied that private prisons were spending R110 per prisoner per day. There should be no tension between PPP prisons and correctional centres because they all served South Africans. On the issue of a traceable bracelet the Minister said that it should always be remembered that one was dealing with people. The mere sight of the uniform of prisoners triggered different thoughts in different people. Prisoners deserved a second chance. The Department had shelved the idea on constitutional grounds and because the bracelet would not tell if the person was committing a crime or not. It would only help in monitoring the movements of the person. The important thing was to find out if the person had changed and if he or she had been accepted back in the community.

Mr Z Ntuli (ANC) asked why there were instances where one would find a prisoner from Kwazulu-Natal serving a sentence in a Gauteng prison. He wondered why cells for awaiting trial prisoners were under the DCS and not the Department of Justice or the courts. He felt that it was important to broaden the scope of community policing forums so that they would be able to receive parolees.

The Minister replied that the Department was trying to ensure that there was constant contact between the family and a prisoner. Some prisoners were kept in other provinces because there were no maximum-security prisons in their provinces.

The Minister said that there was a need to decide where awaiting trial detainees belonged. He felt that they did not belong to DCS. It was not desirable to keep sentenced prisoners with awaiting trial detainees. He felt that juveniles did not belong to DCS but to the Department of Social Development (DSD).

Mr Ntuli asked where PPPs got experience given the fact that the system was new in the country. When the Committee visited Polokwane (Limpopo province) there were awaiting trial prisoners who were clearly insane. He wondered if DSD were not able to observe that those prisoners were insane and therefore should have been sent to the relevant institutions for observation.

The Minister agreed that there were problems around the number of social workers employed by the Department. The Department had funds to employ social workers but the problem was that social workers would normally compare financial packages offered by the Department and other institutions. Other institutions offered better packages hence social workers left the Department. The Department was improving its packages to ensure that it was competitive. One could not have 169 social workers looking after 186 000 prisoners.

Mr F Adams (NNP) felt that community service centres were not easily accessible to ordinary people. He was aware that there were plans to build centres close to the people and asked when the Department would build the centres. He felt that the suggestion to allow victims or next of kin of deceased victims to attend hearings on applications for parole was unsound. Logically, the victim would object to the release of the prisoner. It would be better to limit victims or their next of kin to making written representations. Sometimes correctional service personnel would go and visit a parolee but not find the person because he or she was working. It might happen that the parolee was not at home in time because he or she was asked to work overtime. What normally happened was that the next day correctional services personnel would go back and arrest the person. There should be an investigation into why the person was not at home when correctional officers visited them. Another problem was that parolees knew what time correctional officers would visit them. They would go out and engage in all sorts of things that they were not supposed to do and go back home before correctional officers arrived. There should be changes to the visiting times and random checks should be introduced.

Mr Balfour replied that the idea was not to pounce on parolees like traffic officers did on motor vehicles drivers. This was one of the reasons why officers who visited parolees did not wear uniform. One did not want a situation where neighbours would know that a parolee was under constant surveillance. The idea was to assist in integrating them into society. He acknowledged that some correctional officers were too rigid in applying the regulations.

Mr A Moseki (ANC) asked if there were programmes to ensure that there was skills transfer from the PPPs to the Department. He also asked if the people who were running the private prisons were not at some stage employed by the Department. People who were leaving the Department should be discouraged from establishing their own private prisons.

The Minister replied that most of the people running the private prisons were former employees of the Department. The Department would not discourage people from joining such institutions. They should be encouraged to learn more in the field.

Mr Shiceka said that there could be no proper rehabilitation so long as there were gangs in prisons. They corrupted officials and must be stopped. He asked if the Department had any strategy to deal with gangsters in prisons. Medium prisoners should spend much of their time working so that they would not have opportunities for planning further crimes. Most prisoners learnt various skills in prison but did not use them upon their release. The Department should facilitate funding for such people so that they could start their own businesses upon release. There was also a need to do something about the fact that if one had a criminal record one could not be employed.

The Minister promised to stop gangsterism in prisons.

Mr Mzizi asked if solitary confinement still existed. Most prisoners who were isolated told him solitary confinement was the worst punishment one could receive. He felt that the parole issue should be discussed on Asikhulume (SABC programme on Sundays) so as to directly involve the community. Sometimes people commit unplanned crimes.

The Minister indicated that he had been on the Asikhulume programme and would be appearing on it soon to answer some outstanding questions. There were still instances where solitary confinement was being used but the Department was moving away from it because it did not rehabilitate prisoners. People were isolated when they posed a danger to themselves or other prisoners. However, they were not locked up in dark cells. This was done to ensure that they would be able to relate to people and not as a punishment. People did not go to jail to be punished by the officials but as punishment for what they had done. Officials only had to understand their behaviour and then try and correct them instead of pushing them to the edge. It was important to retrain officials so as to eliminate the military style of treating offenders. Every official should be a rehabilitator. He said the intention was to have correctional officers and not warders. Warders were the bad officials and the Department did not need them anymore.

The meeting was adjourned.


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