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SA Needs a ‘Bail Fund’ to Ease Prison Overcrowding

The situation in South African prisons is getting pretty tight, with the occupancy rate at a whopping 128%. The concern is that the Justice Minister, Ronald Lamola, might give the green light once more to let some prisoners out early to ease the overcrowding problem.

Not long ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa signed a special order that allowed almost 10,000 non-violent offenders to be released from prison ahead of time. This was part of the government’s plan to deal with the overcrowding issue, which, as of now, stands at 128%.

This week, Minister Ronald Lamola talked about his annual report to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Correctional Services. He said that this early release policy had already helped reduce the overcrowding from 143% to its current level.

However, DA MP Glynnis Breytenbach thinks there are problems with this policy:

What we’re talking about here is a program that lets convicted criminals out of prison before they’ve served the sentence decided by a competent court.

According to Breytenbach, the main cause of overcrowding in South African prisons is the people awaiting trial.

Right now, there are almost 50,000 people in custody who have been granted bail by a competent court but can’t afford to pay it. These folks aren’t considered a flight risk or a danger to society. Remember, they’re innocent until proven guilty.

So, what’s the solution? According to Breytenbach, part of it lies in creating a bail fund:

A bail fund is a pool of money funded by the public, used specifically for paying bail. After you go through your trial and show your bail receipt, the money goes back into the bail fund.

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