Parolees free to commit crimes again according to SAPS; Action Society calls for decentralised SAPS

The South African Police Service (SAPS) keeps no records of parolees whose whereabouts are currently unknown and maintains no statistics on the number of criminals released on parole who subsequently commit more crimes. These shocking facts were revealed in a two-page response on a request for access to information that Action Society sent to the South African Police Service (SAPS) on 18 January 2023.

“In South Africa, a criminal conviction is not the end of the road. It is just a bump. Once you are out on parole, you only need to vanish from the police’s radar to continue along your criminal path without any form of monitoring. This glaring gap in oversight paints a disturbing picture of a system that lacks transparency, accountability, and the will to protect the rights and lives of its citizens. It is imperative that the SAPS rectifies this alarming oversight without delay to prevent further criminal activities by those who should be under close supervision,” says Ian Cameron, Director of Community Safety at Action Society.

The SAPS’s failure to maintain statistics on the number of criminals released on parole who subsequently commit crimes is yet another cause for concern. “Without such data, it is impossible to assess the effectiveness of the parole system in rehabilitating offenders or tracking repeat offenders. This absence of information leaves us in the dark about the impact of parole policies on public safety.”

In August this year, President Ramaphosa granted a special remission, resulting in the release of approximately 14 651 offenders, both conditionally and unconditionally, and the freeing of an estimated 20 855 probationers and parolees. “This decision, taken in the absence of a robust and accountable criminal justice system, underscores the need for comprehensive reforms in our approach to law enforcement and criminal justice. In the meantime, strengthening community engagement and empowering provinces to manage their own policing can provide immediate relief and a path forward to a more secure and just South Africa.”

Cameron stressed the importance of restructuring the SAPS. The only solution is a drastic purge in the SAPS and it should start from the top. “An organisational culture of negligence to this degree doesn’t happen by accident, it is shaped by the worst behaviour the leadership is willing to tolerate. This goes for the whole SAPS and when you look at the track record of the current top structures of the SAPS, specifically Bheki Cele, one cannot be surprised why the SAPS is in the state it is. After the purge, it’s crucial to rebuild SAPS from the ground up, ensuring that a decentralised approach to policing is implemented. By devolving power to provinces, we can create a system that is more responsive to local needs, challenges, and priorities and less vulnerable to political influence. Provinces must be granted the constitutional authority to establish their own fully-fledged police services.”

Action Society’s call for a decentralised police service is aligned with the organisation’s comment on the National Prosecution Authority Amendment Bill, calling for a shift in the distribution of prosecutorial power within the country. This shift would entail constitutional amendments that empower provinces to establish their prosecuting authorities, working concurrently with the national NPA to bring about higher efficiency, responsiveness, and accountability within the South African criminal justice system. Read Action Society’s submission here.

Along with a decentralised approach, Action Society continues to call for increased oversight and accountability measures. “For this we need to establish the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) as an independent, constitutional Chapter 9 institution to combat mismanagement and misconduct.” Read Action Society’s comment on the IPID Bill here.

“The South African Police Service (SAPS) face numerous challenges in responding effectively to crime, leading to a sense of insecurity among the population. Moreover, our courts are plagued by overwhelming congestion, resulting in prolonged trial processes and delayed justice. The precarious state of our correctional services system further compounds the problem, as it fails to rehabilitate offenders adequately, allowing many to re-offend upon release without any oversight. The only solution is to decentralise and customise crime fighting initiatives in communities with robust independent oversight.”

Image by pch.vector on Freepik

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