South African President Cyril Ramaphosa granted thousands of low risk prisoners parole to help curb the spread of coronavirus in correctional facilities.
Around 19 000 people would be freed in response to a UN call on countries to reduce prison populations so that social distancing and self-isolation conditions can be observed, Ramaphosa said.
South Africa, beset by high crime rates and violence against women and children, has 155 000 prisoners. The country of 58 million recorded 8 232 cases of COVID-19 last week and 161 deaths.
“In South Africa, as in many other countries, correctional facilities witnessed outbreaks of coronavirus infections among inmates and personnel,” Ramaphosa said in a statement.
South Africa registered 172 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and three deaths at correctional facilities including inmates and staff, Justice and Correctional Services Minister Ronald Lamola said at a briefing.
“We are confronted with a glaring impossibility of maintaining social distancing in our centres due to overcrowding,” said Lamola.
Coronavirus spread to prisons around the world, prompting inmate releases.
Ramaphosa said the parole, which follows similar moves in other countries, would apply to low-risk inmates who are past minimum detention period.
Inmates sentenced to life or convicted of serious crimes, including sexual offences, murder and attempted murder, gender based violence and child abuse are not be eligible and offenders face arrest if they violate release conditions.