South African prisoner tagging begins


The pilot project for electronic monitoring of parolees and probationers from South African prisons has been implemented this month.

The project seeks to deal with overcrowding at correctional facilities and to minimise the possibility of violation of parole conditions.

The pilot involves 150 parolees, including 70 convicts with life sentences who are on parole. It will last for 12 months, at a cost of R6.8 million, according to media liaison officer at the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) Sonwabo Mbananga.
“This will ensure that certain categories of offenders serve their sentences in the community and thereby contribute to the alleviation of overcrowding in correctional facilities,” says government’s Justice, Crime Prevention and Security (JCPS) cluster.

It adds that the electronic monitoring of parolees and probationers will alleviate challenges of parolees absconding from the system of community corrections, while also reducing the risk of recidivism. “We hope that the strengthening of community corrections will encourage the Judiciary to explore alternative sentencing options, making incarceration a last resort.”

The project has been expected to start for some time, with the DCS in 2010 saying it would be rolled out in 2011.

Each inmate will receive a bracelet that is connected to a satellite via signal, allowing correctional officers to monitor where these inmates are at all times. If the bracelets are tampered with, they set off an alarm.

Although there is an obvious implication for people’s privacy, this isn’t a real problem for the system, according to Democratic Alliance correctional services shadow minister James Selfe. “One’s privacy in prison is zero, anyway. When one commits a crime, some of their rights, including the right to privacy, are limited.”

Selfe identifies several benefits that will arise from these systems. “Some 15 000 offenders were re-admitted for breaking parole conditions, which were not crime-related, in 2008/9. There are huge benefits [with this system], because if a person is a parolee or detainee, then the DCS can always know where they are. This means the department can responsibly release everyone who is held on small bail or fines. It would also ease the overcrowding situation and would reduce the influence of gangs on petty criminals being incarcerated.”

The “Estimates of National Expenditure 2010”, released by the National Treasury, shows that in 2008/9, correctional facilities were overcrowded by 42%. Selfe adds that “23 centres in SA experience an occupancy rate of over 200%. The savings would be enormous. People are incarcerated at a cost of R200 a day, and now they can be let out into the community at very little cost”.