Parliament, Wednesday, 3 February 2021 – The Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services today continued its public hearings and deliberations on the Correctional Services Amendment Bill. The committee also adopted the Bill.
Among other things, the Bill seeks to amend the Correctional Services Act so as to amend certain definitions relating to the parole of offenders and to provide for matters connected therewith. The Bill further proposes amendments to the principal Act to align it with the Constitution and the Phaahla Constitutional Court judgment with regard to the placement of a sentenced offender under day parole, parole and correctional supervision; and to provide for the minimum periods to be served before becoming eligible for consideration for such release and placement in terms of the parole regime applicable at the date of commissioning of an offence.
Committee Chairperson Mr Bulelani Magwanishe said the committee received two written submissions on the Bill, with only one request for an oral presentation. After oral responses from the Department of Correctional Services on the public input, Committee Members deliberated on the Bill.
The Helen Suzman Foundation (HSF) told committee that that the current Correctional Services Act creates a dual system of assessment, consideration and placement on parole of inmates, determined by their date of sentence. The Act imposes a parole regime (“the new regime”) in terms of which inmates sentenced to life imprisonment are eligible for parole only after serving 25 years. The new regime applies to inmates sentenced on or after the date on which it came into effect, 1 October 2004. Section 136(1) of the Act preserves the parole regime (“the old regime”) that was in place prior to the coming into effect of the new regime. In terms of the old regime, inmates sentenced to life imprisonment are eligible for parole after serving 20 years. The old regime applies to inmates sentenced before the date on which the new regime came into effect so as to avoid the retroactive application of the new regime.
According to the HSF, the Constitutional Court held that the effect of these provisions was to impose different punishments on persons in similar positions (persons who committed the same offence at the same time) on the basis of their date of sentence.
The amended section 136(1) in the Bill preserves the old regime in respect of all inmates serving a sentence of incarceration (of any length) for an offence committed before the commencement of the new regime. The defect identified by the Constitutional Court in Phaahla is accordingly fully remedied by the amendment to section 136(1) in the Bill.
The DCS said in response that the Phaahla judgement will be implemented using the date of commission of offence in the event when multiple crimes were committed on different dates. The parole policy applicable at the time of commission of offences on each warrant is applied. The same principle applies for an offender with one warrant with multiple crimes, some of which were committed after 1 October 2004. The DCS said offenders are not disadvantaged as the parole policy applicable at the time of commission of offences for each crime or offence is applied. The minimum detention period takes into account whether sentences are running concurrently or consecutively as per the Correctional Services Act.
Regarding the consideration of offenders who are 65 years and above for parole, the committee heard the Act provides for a person who has been sentenced to any term of incarceration, excluding those persons declared dangerous criminals in terms of the Criminal Procedure Act, may be placed on day parole or parole on reaching the age of 65 years, provided that he or she has served at least 15 years of such sentence.
The committee unanimously expressed the view that it should have insight of the regulations pertaining to the Bill that will be drafted by the DCS, as they will contain much of substance relating directly to the Bill.
The proposed amendments were supported by the majority of Members in the Committee. It will now be sent to the National Council of Provinces.
ISSUED BY THE PARLIAMENTARY COMMUNICATION SERVICES ON BEHALF OF THE CHAIRPERSON OF THE PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE ON JUSTICE AND CORRECTIONAL SERVICES, MR BULELANI MAGWANISHE.
For media enquiries or interviews with the Chairperson, please contact the committee’s Media Officer:
Name: Rajaa Azzakani (Ms)
Tel: 021 403 8437
Cell: 081 703 9542
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