/ 17 September 2009

SA medical parole system needs work, admits minister

About 65% of people who had in the past been released on medical parole are still alive, Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said on Thursday.

Mapisa-Nqakula said a lot of work and thinking was required to improve the current medical parole system.

”One tricky matter is that the provision of the Act under medical parole … has no reference to people who are sick, only those who are terminally ill,” she told a media briefing following a summit on the 52 parole boards in the country.

The summit was held in Boksburg, Johannesburg.

Medical parole came under the spotlight last year after fraud convict Schabir Shaik was released on medical parole because of his ill health.

The minister said the definition needed to be improved and more medical personnel were required to assist in developing policies on medical parole.

She told of an example mentioned at the summit of a woman released on medical parole and less than two months later she committed another crime and returned to prison but she was now also pregnant.

The matter was further complicated by the difficulty in returning prisoners who had been granted medical parole to prison once their conditions improved.

When asked whether the system was open to favouritism, as was widely believed regarding the Shaik case, the minister said: ”I can’t be defensive and say that I rule that out.”

She said the purpose of the summit was to identify the weaknesses and strengths of the parole system and begin to put in place solutions.

”It is incorrect for us to say the system is perfect, it has only been in place for four years,” she said.

She said regarding the Shaik parole, there could have been other inmates as sick as he was who should also have been released by now.

While the process was not perfect, however, the minister said she believed there were a number of oversight mechanisms to make sure that the process was ”clean” and that it ”had integrity”.

During the summit, the chairs and deputy chairs of the country’s 52 parole boards discussed victim involvement in granting parole, training for parole boards, medical parole and possible amendments to the current legislation. — Sapa