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CORRECTIONAL SERVICES PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
5 September 2006
PAROLE BOARD IMPLEMENTATION: INPUT FROM TWELVE PAROLE BOARD CHAIRPERSONS AND MINISTER
Chairperson: Mr D Bloem (ANC)
Documents handed out:
CORRECTIONAL SERVICES PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE
List of Chairpersons who presented
Progress: Implementation of Correctional Supervision and Parole Boards (National Department)
Status Report: Implementation of CSPB: Eastern Cape
Progress: Implementation of Correctional Supervision and Parole Board - Grootvlei
Progress: Implementation of Correctional Supervision and Parole Board – Groenpunt
Progress: Implementation of Correctional Supervision & Parole Board – Johannesburg
Progress: Implementation of Correctional Supervision & Parole Board: Durban Management Area
Progress: Implementation of Correctional Supervision and Parole Board – Klerksdorp
Presentation: Malmesbury Correctional Supervision and Parole Board
Presentation: Allandale Correctional Supervision and Parole Board
Twelve chairpersons representing some of the 52 parole boards across the country made presentations detailing the day-to-day functioning of their respective parole boards as well as the challenges they faced. It was the Committee’s first opportunity to interact with some of the ‘new age’ chairpersons all of whom were selected from the public. The chairpersons agreed that because their decisions were based on the profiles inmate case files contained, the Department’s case management committees needed to improve their management of these files. Members raised concerns around the medical parole process, victims’ and their families’ involvement in the parole process and the support systems available to parolees.
Minister’s opening remarks
The Minister, Mr Ncgonde Balfour, explained that the 52 chairpersons of parole boards across the country were in his employ and that he was familiar with the work they did. He expected them to assist the Department especially in relation to those cases requiring medical parole approval and those inmates who were not a threat to society and met the parole requirements.
He had received a message that that evening a Special Assignment report would be televised on the rights of prisoners and on parole focusing on the former prisoner, Dora Bell, who had recently been released and now worked in his office. In the programme he was taken to task for releasing Dora Bell. He stated that contrary to news report claims, he had not been responsible for Ms Bell’s release. After an earlier SABC exposé, which reported on the Pollsmoor women’s facility, Ms Bell’s case had been forwarded to the parole board servicing the facility. The parole board recommended that she be released as she did not pose a threat to society and had already served a third of her sentence. Ms Bell had tied up and robbed her former employer. The victim then died of a heart attack. He emphasised that Ms Bell had not murdered the woman in cold blood. Upon hearing of the board’s decision the Minister had enquired as to whether the victim’s family had been informed of the impending release. He had recommended that they ask Dora Bell about the family’s whereabouts since she had "caused the problem". The Department had tried to locate the family but failed. He was of the opinion that the SABC had now turned this story around to indicate that the DCS released prisoners "willy-nilly" and without informing the victims.
He added that the programme would also try to show that prisoners had more rights than victims and that Dora Bell had been given a rousing farewell by the prisoners. He quipped that he was not sure whether he had attended this farewell party. If media reports were to be believed he attended "every lunch and party".
The programme also claimed that he went on to employ her in his office as deputy assistant director or something similar. He said that by employing Dora Bell he was merely "walking the talk". If one said that one was giving offenders a second chance because they were not a threat to society, he was doing nothing wrong by giving a reformed offender a spring board from which to do other things. He could not understand why "one got damned" for doing something that one thought would benefit those offenders who did not pose a threat to society.
He urged the parole board chairpersons to make sure that the Committee understood that parole boards dealt with issues related to parole and that he did not influence their rulings. If any chairperson had received a written request from the Minister they should submit it to the Committee immediately.
Medical releases were motivated by doctors. Six terminally ill offenders had already been released from Westville and more would follow. These successes were not highlighted in the media. He explained that he was merely trying to do his job as best he could and emphatically stated that if he allowed Dora Bell to be released wrongly, he should be convicted for that. He did not believe this was the case. Her children now had a mother. He acknowledged that the victim’s family had lost someone dear to them and added that efforts had been made to locate them.
He told the chairpersons to enjoy themselves with the Portfolio Committee because the members were legislators, friends and leaders of their parties. He added that sometimes even the members needed help to understand what was happening on the ground. He was sure that the Department had not been wrong in involving community members to chair the parole boards. He urged them to keep up the good work and to involve the Committee so that progress could be made.
He thanked the parole boards for the good work they did in sometimes very difficult situations said where prisons sometimes opposed their decisions. He added that he had visited the Drakenstein facility that passed Sunday because he spent his time in prisons in an effort to understand what was going on in correctional facilities. He joked that he would stay far from the Malmesbury facility for fear of media reports that he was visiting Tony Yengeni who allegedly had a double bed and a 74 com television in his cell!
Chairperson’s opening remarks
The Chairperson extended a special welcome to the chairpersons of the parole boards, many of whom were appearing before a parliamentary committee for the first time. He set their minds at ease saying that they would not be "grilled" by the Committee.
He disagreed with the Minister about his not being able to visit Malmesbury. There was no prison in the country that the Minister could not visit. Tony Yengeni was one of the 167 000 inmates in South Africa and no one could tell the Minister where not to go.
The Chairperson reminded everyone that the President had in 2001 instituted a judicial commission of enquiry to investigate allegations of corruption and maladministration within the Department of Correctional Services. The parole procedure had been one of the focal areas of the enquiry. Evidence that some inmates paid large sums of money to chairpersons or members of parole board for their parole application to be approved, had also been received. Some of the inmates who benefited from this corruption also appeared before the Jali Commission.
The Jali Commission had recommended that the parole boards be headed by independent members from the public who were not working within the system and who could not be easily bribed since they had little if any access to offenders. The Chairpersons were very respectable citizens of the country and the members of this Committee had been part of the short listing and interview process for each and every one of the 52 chairpersons of the Parole Boards. The process had been transparent and nobody including the Minister, the National Commissioner or candidates’ friends who worked within the Department had influenced appointments.
Overcrowding was a very serious problem. He knew that there was a backlog in prisons and that some inmates complained about the parole procedure. He realised that the task facing parole boards was very difficult. He was sure that the Chairpersons would do their work with honesty and not bribes from anyone. He said that he had listened to what the Minister had said about the Dora Bell story and was very interested in what processes had been followed. He was surprised that it was very strange that the very Special Assignment team who had exposed Dora Bell and others’ plight now objected to her release and told a different story. He said that there were rules and regulations governing procedures in the Department and the Committee needed to hear the parole boards’ version of whether procedures were being followed in all cases.
Mr Teboho Motseki (DCS Deputy Commissioner: Corrections) said that the President had in October 2004 made the proclamation that had brought about the establishment of the new parole boards. The legislation required that members of the public could, for the first time in the history of the country, play a role in the paroling system. This allowed for the interest of the public, victims and communities to be addressed. It also allowed for an assessment of the offender, which sought to protect the public and guarantee their safety. The Chairpersons before the Committee that day were part of the first 52 chairpersons elected from the public. Their election could be seen as a pilot project and he hoped that the experiences they would share with the Committee would be of significant interest.
Mr Motseki proceeded to provide an overview of the progress that had been made with the implementation of correctional supervision and parole boards. The major challenges the Department had identified included the failure of case management committees to submit good quality inmate profiles and the attitude officials had towards community representatives that sat on parole boards.
Parole Board Chairpersons’ Presentations
The twelve chairpersons present, informed the Committee of the composition of their parole boards, their core functions as well as the different correctional centres and prison populations they served. They then detailed the methodology used for arriving at decisions. Some of their major concerns and recommendations revolved around the need for greater involvement of the South African Police Services and the Department of Justice in the parole process and improved coordination between the parole boards and the case management committees who were responsible for managing inmate profiles.
Mr E Xolo (ANC) wondered whether the vacant for chairpersons’ positions had been advertised and when the Department thought they would be filled.
Mr Motseki confirmed that the posts had been advertised and he hoped that the regions had notified both the select and the portfolio committee so that members could be part of the selection process. The Department hoped that the process should be finalised before 15 September 2006.
The Chairperson wondered when the parole review board entered into the process. He said that inmates were very interested in when their parole applications would be approved. Sometimes the parole board made such a recommendation and informed the inmate of is or her release on parole only to have that decision reversed by the parole review board. This caused the inmate much stress and anxiety.
Mr Motseki said that the Department was aware of the "discomfort" a reversal of a decision to grant parole created. The law provided that any decision of any parole board could be brought up for review. Any person could ask the Commissioner or the Minister to make a recommendation that a decision be reviewed.
The DCS tried to ensure that parole boards as per the procedures rendered by the National Council of Correctional Services (NCCS) could not release an inmate immediately. One needed to be certain that the inmate would have a support structure and their families needed to be informed of their release. Referrals to the Department of Health and the Department of Social Development also needed to be made. In addition there was a minimum period in which a review had to take place. He agreed that the issue was complicated. A decision to approach the review board could only be taken once the parole board had made a ruling hence there would always be some anxiety that a ruling could be upturned. He emphasised that the Department’s interest was in public safety, the interest of the victims and that the procedures the parole boards followed were fair.
Ms R Nawa (ANC) wondered how much of a sentence an inmate had to serve before he or she could be considered for parole.
Mr Motseki explained that there were to time periods that applied to the period before the enactment of the proclamation and the period after. One stated that a person was eligible for consideration for parole after a third of the sentence had been served while the other required one to have served half of the sentence. Different categories of offenders sentenced in terms of different sections of the Criminal Procedure Act were subject to different time frames before they could be considered for parole. He emphasised that no offender was guaranteed parole once he had served the minimum number of years of his sentence.
Ms S Chikunga (ANC) asked what the procedure governing a request to have a decision overturned was.
Ms Jabu Sishuba (Chief Deputy Commissioner: Care and Development) explained that the Parole Review Board was removed from the initial process. Concerns around the decision the parole board had taken could only be raised with the Commissioner or the Minister who would then upon advice from the Department refer the concern to the Parole Review Board. Once the concern was raised the issue was referred to the Corrections Unit where a dedicated team would go through the inmate’s file to make sure that the parole procedures had been adhered to and that the decision was informed by the report of the social workers, the psychologists, etc. They also considered the concerns the parole board and the victim might have raised as well as the seriousness of the crime that had been committed. If it was found that there were no grounds for concern they advised the Minister or the Commissioner against referring the matter to the Parole Review Board. If however it were decided that there were grounds for concern the matter would be recommended for review. She explained that the date of release was often months after the parole board had decided the case. This gave enough opportunity for concerns to be raised and the necessary processes to take place.
The Chairperson said that the 52 parole boards sat nearly every day. He wondered whether the dedicated team Ms Sishuba spoke of went through every single file that came from these boards. The Committee had said that community representatives should chair the boards and should decide whether parole should be granted or not.
Ms Sishuba explained that the parole review boards only addressed those cases where concerns had been raised.
Mr Motseki said that the procedure and processes of fairness required that everybody in the decision had to be unanimous. If necessary the board might vote. If there was no chance of them coming to an agreement, the offender would be excused and they arrive at a decision behind closed doors and then inform the inmate. The process was transparent and everyone could see that procedures were being followed. Area Commissioners and heads of centres were responsible for monitoring the work and decisions parole boards took.
In cases where the victims or their families felt that an offender should not be released they could write to the Minister to plead against the release. If it was found that the victim had not been considered in the original decision the case could be referred for review. Not every single case went to the parole review board. Ones where it was felt that the interest of the victim had not been considered or where there was much public interest were definitely reviewed.
Ms Sishuba added that cases had to be brought for review within a certain period of the parole board arriving at their decision. The Parole Review Board also had a specific time frame in which it had to make a ruling.
Mr N Fihla (ANC) asked what the relationship between the national parole board and the national advisory board was.
The Chairperson said that it was the first time that the Committee was meeting with the Chairpersons and the presentations had been enlightening. Ms Adams and Mr Shozi had raised very important issues in their presentation. He said that their challenges indicated that the Committee’s involvement would be very critical. He urged the members whose constituencies were in the province to also get involved.
Ms Chikunga wondered how many inmates qualified for parole in the KwaZulu Natal area. She wondered whether the Department had done an audit of the number of inmates who might qualify for parole. Knowing these figures would give the Committee some idea of the work that lay ahead.
Ms Meenaaz Adams (Durban) replied that the parole board realised the need to plan and strategise as far as the number of inmates who qualified for parole was concerned. The parole boards depended on the case management committee (CMC) to submit the G326 document (which contained the offender’s profile). She and Mr Shozi had engaged each centre in their management area so those offenders, who should be considered for parole, could be identified timeously. They had identified 25 in the medium B centre but she admitted that there were probably many more. The matter had been taken up to the Durban management area level. The parole board would enlist the national Department to assist in this regard. She agreed that there were offenders who should be considered as soon as possible and that the release on parole would aid as far as decreasing the prison population.
Ms Chikunga said that on the Committee’s visits they came across people who looked terminally ill, and according to the Judicial Inspectorate of Prisons’ reports there were a number of people who had died of natural causes, most of which were associated with terminal diseases associated with conditions such as HIV and AIDS. She wondered how long it took for a medical parole application to reach the parole board. She guessed that many of the inmates who would probably qualify for medical parole died before their applications reached the board.
Ms Adams explained that the presentation only reflected the number of applications for medical parole the board had received and agreed that the number was low. The board had emphasised that there was a need to attend to possible applications for medical parole as a priority and would like to see more such applications made. She admitted that there was no real increase in the number of such applications.
She assured the Committee that whatever applications the board received, were dealt with immediately. It needed to be emphasised that medical personnel should be more vigorous in their processing of applications for medical parole.
Ms Adams pointed out that there was a concern that some offenders would abuse the medical parole system to be released early. She said that this was part of the reason why health personnel were quite hesitant about proceeding with large numbers of applications.
She said that her management area tracked that when a person was released on medical parole he or she had a dignified death. They also kept track of the medical parolees who had passed away and could forward the relevant statistics to the Committee.
Mr Andrew De Laura (Malmesbury) stated that medical parole was not granted unless a General Practitioner and a specialist confirmed an inmate’s medical status. The parole board took great care to ensure that only eligible inmates received medical parole.
Ms Nawa sought clarity on what "day parole" meant.
Mr Diz Shozi (Durban) explained that a person who was due to be released and did not have a support system could, in terms of the Correctional Services Act (1998), be allowed to leave the facility during the day to seek employment. In the afternoon he or she returned to the facility and was then subject to the prescripts of the legislation. He added that day parole was well defined in the Act.
Mr De Laura explained that day parole was particularly necessary for people ho had already served many years in prison. It helped to ensure that inmates could adapt to their new circumstances and be acclimatised to life outside of prison. He told of an inmate who had entered into the facility with only a grade 8 qualification and who was now in possession of a law degree. This inmate was now on day parole.
Ms Nawa wondered what became of offenders who were rejected by their communities and their families.
Mr Shozi explained that if a female had been involved in a domestic violence case the family was very often reluctant to welcome her back. An alternative support system such as a home for abused women might then have to be sought. There were also cases of communities who rejected parolees who kept re-offending. These offenders often slipped through the cracks because it was difficult for the parole boards to keep track of inmates who changed the names. An offender who had no support system could not be recommended for release since there was a greater likelihood that such an offender would re-offend. The parole procedure had to have mechanisms in place for how support systems were assessed.
Mr N Fihla (ANC) wondered what the parole board’s relationship with National Institute for the Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of Offenders (NICRO) was. He felt that NICRO would be able to play an important role in the rehabilitation and reintegration of parolees.
Mr Shozi explained that in Durban a service providers meeting was held at which NICRO, the Department and community corrections were present. The parole board worked hand in hand with NICRO who ran programmes in prisons. The parole board had requested NICRO to write reports on inmates’ participation in their programmes so that these reports could be included in their profiles and form part of their assessment.
Mr Fihla was concerned about the South African Police Services and the Department of Justice’s lack of involvement in the KZN parole boards. These two sectors ought to play a role in the assessments.
Mr Shozi explained that there were efforts to try and involve the Department of Justice in their management area. It was critical that the DCS was represented in the parole board sittings and the DCS said that they were trying to facilitate such participation. Magistrates’ involvement was also critical, particularly in terms of sentencing. In his management area they had developed a strategy aimed at involving everybody involved within the penal system.
Mr Fihla wondered what role parole boards could play in lowering the level of overcrowding.
Mr Shozi responded that it was critical for the parole board to treat each case on its own merit. They did not simply want to reduce overcrowding by reducing the number of people in prison but wanted to ensure that those who were released qualified for parole and that other role players also played their part. He also pointed out that statistics on overcrowding could be misleading and exaggerated. He pointed out that parole boards only dealt with those inmates who were serving sentences longer than 12 months. Other sectors needed to play their part as far as other categories of offenders were concerned. When amnesties were promulgated the parole boards played their role by ensuring that people were being released timeously.
Mr De Laura commented that if CMCs should ideally be 6 months ahead in their work – an assessment should be submitted to the parole board 6 months prior to the time an inmate became eligible for parole. In his management area the parole board had drawn up a list of sexual offenders and those who had been in prison for a very long time to determine what types of programmes they needed to be involved in. One had to ensure that offenders who were released on parole were "good citizens" as required by Chapter 13 of the White Paper on Corrections.
Mr Xolo said that he had met a woman at the Port Shepstone facility who was not prepared to take her son, who had just been released, home. She was did not want to have anything to do with him at all. He wondered what role social workers could play in such situations.
Ms Adams said that rejected parolees were a real concern to parole boards and added that the parole board involved should have decided against granting the parole: an offender could not be considered for release with a negative confirmation i.e. their families did not accept them. His release should have been addressed with the family or alternatives prior to the matter being considered. She could guarantee that if this case had been considered at Westville he or she would not have been considered. It was critical to take the offenders’ family and community’s view on their release into account. She felt that the parole board in question needed to be sensitised around these issues. The Member had the right to go back and raise the matter with them and they "would have to provide some answers".
Mr Shozi added that parole boards had the responsibility of ensuring that offenders were integrated into the community. Social workers should be involved so that they could discuss the release with the family. He pointed out that while a person’s parole could be declined, offenders could not be kept in prison beyond the length of their sentence. Eventually they would be released. A person released on parole would be under the parole board’s guidance until the sentence was finished. This guidance would aid reintegration. Victims should also be considered. They should be asked why they thought an offender should not be released as well as be given the opportunity to suggest the kind of restrictions they would like to see imposed on them should they be released. Reintegration of parolees should happen early and well before their sentences expired.
Mr S Mahote (ANC) remembered that an inmate had died on the Committee’s arrival at the King Williams Town correctional facility. He wondered how often district surgeons examined inmates who were ill.
Ms Adams said that she worked together with the hospital, which was a 24-hour care facility. She had a good working relationship with the doctors at the facility. The doctor on duty saw an offender who was in hospital every day. If that offender were in his or her cell and he or she would only be seen for medical attention upon his or her request. She said that there were offenders who chose not to go to the hospital. Many preferred not to disclose their reasons for this decision. She emphasised that if an inmate was ill he or she should be in hospital. One should look at those offenders who chose not to have the treatment because if they chose to remain in the cell they had to without the necessary treatment. Some reached a point where they were so ill that they had no choice but to be admitted to hospital.
Mr Vincent Jones (Chairperson: Johannesburg) added that they had tried to engage the doctors so that they could give the parole board the rough life expectancy of an offender who was ill particularly because the term "terminally ill" could imply different life expectancies. It was difficult for some of the doctors to commit to this. He said that medical parole always presented a "tricky" situation.
Ms Chikunga wondered whether, in the light of the cases that had been sent for review because processes were not adhered to, the Chairpersons felt that they received adequate training that enabled them to make quality decisions.
Ms Dichabe (Chairperson: Free State/ Northern Cape) said that not all chairpersons had been trained. She was one of the ones who had not been trained but she felt that she managed to perform the functions she was expected to perform.
Mr Shozi said that the training chairpersons received was very intense and that they had learnt a lot from it. The people serving on the parole boards were experts and were able to assist chairpersons.
Mr Jones felt that training was "never enough" and needed to be ongoing. He hoped that Mr Motseki could assist so that there could be two national meetings of Chairpersons per year. One way of learning was through the sharing of experiences of what happened on the ground.
Ms Chikunga agreed that it was a good decision to have members of the public chairing the parole boards. She felt that the issues the Chairpersons had raised could "never be raised by the DCS" and that she now had a better understanding of the lack of rehabilitation, lack of commitment and negligence on the side of officials. She gathered that the work of the CMCs made it possible for the parole boards to make quality decisions. She wondered what the relationship between parole boards and CMCs was and how they interacted with each other.
Mr Mahote was particularly concerned about the language barrier the representatives from the Western Cape had raised and hoped that this could be raised in the Committee’s deliberations after the session. He wondered whether the parole boards or the national Department was short staffed and whether this was why some reports were not present in inmates’ G326 files. He asked whether the parole boards had raised the matter with the Department.
Ms Dichabe made clear that the parole board could not do much of the inmate’s profile was not complete. The CMC sometimes derailed the placement process deliberately by not making sure that the documentation related to the offender’s support system was included in the profile. It was difficult for the boards to make decisions without such information. These and other issues were raised at the quarterly meetings that were attended by all stakeholders.
Mr Jones said that monthly meetings between CMCs, the parole board, community corrections, medics and the vocational professionals had helped a lot in Johannesburg. These meetings also promoted a good working relationship.
Ms Modisenyane (Chairperson: Klerksdorp) said that the attachment reports received from the CMCs informed the parole boards’ decisions. They gave an idea of the rehabilitation path the offender had followed. A quality decision from the parole board was dependent upon the quality of the attachment reports.
Mr Peacock (Chairperson: Leeuwkop) informed the Committee that the decisions of the parole board at Leeuwkop that had been sent for review had al been confirmed and that the offenders’ parole had been granted.
Mr Xolo wondered what Mr Litsoane meant in his presentation when he said that not all inmates were criminals and condemnable?
Mr Litsoane (Chairperson: Groenpunt) explained that the statement was relative. It did not absolutely apply to al inmates. Some people committed offences but were not necessarily criminals at heart.
Ms M Rajbally (MF) agreed with Rev Irion that the families of the victims needed to know about the release of those who had perpetrated crimes against them. She wondered at what stage of the process the families were contacted.
She said that she knew of a very serious matter in Westville where a person had been rehabilitated and was studying to become a Muslim priest. He was eligible for parole but was told that his parole would be subject to him giving details of the crime he had committed. He was very frustrated and was becoming suicidal.
Rev Irion (Chairperson: Cradock) said that the parole process needed to be fair. Everyone involved in the matter had to be heard. He emphasised that a parole board sitting was not a re-trial and that based on the information Ms Rajbally had shared the inmate should definitely have been considered for placement on parole.
The Chairperson felt that the meeting had presented a good opportunity to listen to what the chairpersons of parole boards were experiencing. Criticising from the outside was easy but many people did not understand what was going on at the rock face of the parole boards’ work. He was particularly concerned about victims’ exclusion from parole decisions, and the absence of other justice cluster partners from the process. This absence needed to be addressed by the Department of Correctional Services as well as by the Committee.
He continued that the Correctional Services Act required that all cluster partners be involved. It was very disturbing to hear that there was no such involvement in some of the parole boards. Unless every role player played its part, the parole boards would not be truly representative. The chairpersons had been very open and frank and had raised matters at the appropriate platform. The Department’s reports were sometimes "very rosy" but at closer inspection, matters were not so "nice". The challenges the chairpersons had raised would be addressed with the Department and the Committee would make recommendations. He urged members to, during parliamentary recess, interact with the facilities in their constituencies.
The meeting was adjourned.
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