Fat in the fire: 71,000 SA convicts live in gangsters’ dens

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Fat in the fire: 71,000 SA convicts live in gangsters’ dens

Social reintegration plan for parolees is marred by presence of violent gangs, says correctional services

Journalist
The relative of a man detained in a police van looks on as a policeman leaves their residence during a police operation in the Mitchells Plain, Cape Town.
Crackdown The relative of a man detained in a police van looks on as a policeman leaves their residence during a police operation in the Mitchells Plain, Cape Town.
Image: Marco Longari

The mushrooming of violent gang activity is posing a visible threat to communities in which some of SA’s 71,421 convicts live – on parole, probation or awaiting trial.

This was revealed by the correctional services department following an indaba on social reintegration in Durban on Wednesday.

The department noted that it was concerned about violent gang activity in areas where many parolees and probationers reside, making it difficult for monitoring officials to access these offenders’ places of residence.

Willie Pienaar, deputy director in the directorate of community corrections, said there were about 55,000 parolees, 15,000 probationers and 1,500 awaiting-trail people in the country. 

He said community corrections, which was introduced in SA in 1991, is a non-custodial sentencing option in which offenders serve their sentences within the community.

“There are two main streams of offenders, the probationers and parolees. Probationers are those who are sentenced by the court directly to correctional supervision and report to a community corrections office in the area where that person resides. Parolees are those who serve the remainder of their sentence in the community – so after completing a certain portion of the sentence the person is placed out on parole and admitted into the system of community corrections,” said Pienaar. 

Despite the concern about gang violence, of the 71,421 offenders the department had a fallout of about 1% annually among those whose parole or correctional supervision had been revoked.

“The idea of community corrections is to grow the system to have a internationally best practice, to have a leaner incarcerated offender population and have a bigger community corrections system.”

The department’s national director of after-care, Azwihangwisi Nesengani, said the department had many programmes geared towards the successful reintegration of offenders.

Those who have said that our institutions are five-star hotels, it’s either they have never been to those institutions or they have never been to prison.
Department of correctional services national director of after care Azwihangwisi Nesengani

“We have a programme on computer skills, a starter pack programme – where offenders are provided with starter packs to assist them with any skill they have learned – an entrepreneurship programme – in which we are working with the department of trade and industry and the department of small businesses as well as halfway houses, which provide transitional accommodation to offenders who are eligible for parole but do not have support systems in the community.”

Other projects included the food for security programme in schools, where parolees go to different schools and show children how to start a food for security garden, as well as the ambassador projects where ex-offenders list the dangers of crime to pupils and explain that prisons are not five-star hotels.

Meanwhile, James Smallburger, the acting KwaZulu-Natal commissioner who also serves as the national deputy chief commissioner, said the province would not tolerate any violations in prison. 

Smallburger was referring to an incident at Westville Correctional Centre when a prisoner was filmed snorting an illegal substance, believed to be cocaine. 

The video of Ruwain Meer – a double-murder convict – went viral last month. It shows Meer in his cell indulging in drugs and dancing while his cellmate, Sanele Nyalane, who is serving a 15-year sentence for robbery with aggravating circumstances, films him. 

Smallburger said both men were still in Ebongweni “C-max” prison in Kokstad and had since been identified as maximum security offenders.

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