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IRR urges lawmakers to assist poverty-stricken prisoners

The South African Institute of Race Relations (IRR) has called for the release of poor prisoners who are unable to pay bail.

The IRR said on Tuesday that there were 7 468 detainees being held in South African jails in 2015 simply because they could not afford to raise bail. Some 76% of these detainees could not afford bail set at amounts of R 1 000 or less.

“These individuals are in many respects ‘prisoners of poverty’ and the IRR has urged lawmakers to reconsider policies relating to bail in South Africa,” said the IRR in a statement.

The detainees that could not afford bail include: 

  • 3 339 remand detainees – or 45% – of the total, could not afford bail of R 500 or less.
  • 2 334 – or 31% – could not afford to pay between R 500 and R 1 000. 
  • 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.

IRR analyst Kerwin Lebone 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”.

Lebone said these were people the courts believe could be released back into society pending trial, but they simply cannot afford their freedom.

“The presence of so many remand detainees in our jails compounds the prison overcrowding crisis faced by the Department of Correctional Services,” said Lebone.

“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.”

The IRR has suggested that South Africa’s lawmakers reconsider bail policies to alleviate the burden on both correctional services, taxpayers and the poor. – African News Agency (ANA)

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