Until the reforms to the prison legislation passed in June 1993, the Commissioner of Correctional Services was empowered to remit any part of a prisoner's sentence, taking into account a recommendation by a prison board, and within general limits set by the president, but subject to no other control. The 1993 amendments substituted for this arbitrary decision a system of parole, to be administered by parole boards, whose members may include persons not employed by the department. More formal rules for parole are laid down, and the prisoner is given greater procedural protection. A system of "credits" is to be introduced, which a parole board may take into account when considering release of a prisoner.
In addition, and as described in the chapter on "Recent Changes in Prison Legislation," prisoners who have served part of their sentence may now be released into correctional supervision. While in correctional supervision, a prisoner may be ordered to perform community service, placed under house arrest, ordered to pay compensation to a victim, or undergo a treatment program.125 The Department of Correctional Services claims a success rate of nearly 90 percent in implementing this program, though prisoners' rights organizations expressed concern to us as to its implementation in practice.
One of the conditions of parole may be that the prisoner should have a job. We were told by some prison warders and ex-prisoners that this system allowed for abuse, where the prison service found employment for prisoners with farmers and other private sector employers, who might exploit them. If prisoners complained at mistreatment they would be deemed to have broken parole, and could be returned to prison. Ex-prisoners also complained that their rights during parole were never explained to them, and that wages paid for the work they did amounted to as little as R.2.50 (US 804) a day. Prison warders at Modderbee prison who spoke to us before our visit stated that farmers who used parolees as labor would give gifts to prison staff in return for their access to prisoners. The Department of Correctional Services stated to us that any prison warders caught engaging in such practices would be disciplined.
In theory, each prison has a pre-release counselling service. However, in the prisons we visited, mainly white prisoners were benefiting from such programs. At Kroonstad, where many white prisoners are housed, there were nine fully-qualified social workers for the whole prison, but only one was black and the others did not speak any African languages. Four auxiliary social workers were black. This lack of attention to black prisoners was acknowledged to be a problem by the prison staff. At Modderbee, there were only two fully qualified social workers and nine auxiliaries. At Barberton, there was only one fully qualified social worker, described by prisoners as "useless," and two auxiliary social workers for the whole prison complex. In Kroonstad women's prison, black women complained that the social worker did not understand nor spend as much time on their problems as on those of the white women. Each prisoner is given R.20 ($6.50) on release. The Department of Correctional Services pays fares home on public transportation.
The amnesties for both security-related and ordinary prisoners since 1990 have caused an outcry from parts of South Africa because of the mistaken release of at least one potentially violent criminal. This response led the government to announce in May 1993 that it would review the release of security prisoners released over the previous three years and take steps to rearrest those released in error. The amendments to the prisons legislation in June introduced a new section providing for the arrest and detention for seventy-two hours of a prisoner believed to have been erroneously released. The reincarceration of the prisoner would then require the approval of a judge.126
The early releases were also controversial within the prisons. Although the release of security prisoners was subject to an agreed review procedure, the date of release of ordinary prisoners was a purely executive decision. In most of the prisons we visited, prisoners expressed uncertainty as to the procedures by which early release was granted, and resentment at the selection process. In one case, a prisoner complained that his co-defendant, who had been sentenced to the death penalty, had been granted release, while he, with a lesser sentence, was still incarcerated. Hunger strikes and protests by prisoners hoping to be included in the programs for early release, mainly on political grounds, reached crisis proportions during 1991, and were still continuing in 1993 at the time of our visits.
In addition, it seemed that magistrates were attempting to circumvent the policy of granting early release by handing down longer sentences. On several occasions we heard anecdotal evidence that magistrates, who handle most criminal cases, had specifically mentioned recent releases in giving a long sentence to a convicted criminal. There is a need to integrate the release procedure with sentencing policy, to provide for a more formalized system for deciding which prisoners are able to benefit from general amnesties, and to ensure that all prisoners have the system clearly explained to them.
125 H.J. Bruyn, "An overview of the treatment of offenders in prison and correctional supervision," in Lorraine Glanz (ed), Managing Crime in the New South Africa, (Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council, 1992).
126 Correctional Services Amendment Act 1993, Section 13, introducing Section 32A to the principal act.