South African Institute of Race Relation (IRR) has called on lawmakers to act on ‘prisoners of poverty’ in South Africa’s jails disclosing that many who have not been convicted of any crime are in jail simply because they are too poor to afford bail of R 500 or less.
IRR in a press release, suggested that the nation’s lawmakers reconsider South Africa’s bail policies in order to alleviate the burden on both Correctional Services, taxpayers and poor people.
Highlighting that “7 468 detainees were held in South African jails in 2015 because they could not afford to raise bail.” And that 76% of the “detainees could not afford bail set at amounts of R 1 000 or less,” IRR argued that “these individuals are in many respects ‘prisoners of poverty’,” urging the lawmakers to readdress policies relating to bail in South Africa.
Commenting, Kerwin Lebone, IRR’s analyst said: “The figures are concerning for several reasons. The first is that a great many people who have not been convicted of any crime are in jail simply because they are too poor to afford bail – they are what we describe as prisoners of poverty. These are people who the courts believe could be released back into society pending trial but cannot afford their freedom.
Secondly, the presence of so many remand detainees in our jails compounds the prison overcrowding crisis faced by the Department of Correctional Services.
And, thirdly, there is a significant cost to the taxpayer in housing this number of remand detainees, and these resources could be more effectively employed elsewhere in the criminal justice system.”
To buttress their argument, IRR presented the breakdown of detainees who could not afford bail as seen below.
- Some 3 339 remand detainees – or 45% – of the total, could not afford bail of R 500 or less.
- Some 2 334 – or 31% – could not afford to pay between R 500 and R 1 000.
- Some 1 082 – or 14% – could not afford bail amounts set between R 1 001 and R 2 000.
- A further 589 – or 8% – could not pay bail amounts between R 2 001 and R 5 000.
- 124 of remand detainees – or 2% – were set bail amounts of over R 5 000, and could not afford to pay the amount.
Overcrowding in South Africa’s prisons is a huge problem…We have a law that government can use to alleviate overcrowding. That is section 63A of the Criminal Procedure Act. It’s a law that’s been there since 1977.
However,…there seems to be a reluctance on the part of prison authorities to employ this law to alleviate overcrowding.
We have a lot of prisoners that are petty criminals that could be released using that law. Which is why we are saying lawmakers should look at that law and encourage prison authorities to use it more.