Judge calls for leniency when sentencing offenders for petty crimes


December 7, 2018 11:24 am

File photo: African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – Instead of being sent to prison, offenders given sentences of less than two years should rather undertake community service.

This call was made in a recent ruling by Western Cape High Court acting Judge Daniel Thulare. “In my view, a sentence of imprisonment for a period of less than 24 months amounts to nothing more than judicial warehousing of the accused, who are generally poor and casualties of socio-economic conditions,” he said.

Thulare said the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) “does nothing more than an act of storing them (offenders) until they are released without benefiting in any way from such incarceration”.

Western Cape Correctional Services commissioner Delekile Klaas said should most courts follow Thulare’s approach, it would lead to much-needed relief for most correctional facilities.“Evidently this would save millions in taxpayers’ money,” he said.

Klaas, judges and members of the Department of Justice’s provincial efficiency enhancement committee recently paid an unannounced visit to the Goodwood Correctional Facility.

Judge President of the Western Cape High Court John Hlophe, who was on the tour, was shocked at the sentencing of offenders to lengthy prison terms for petty crimes.

“These are our children, not animals; any form of punishment should have the intent to rebuild and educate rather than completely destroy the suspect. We need to… urge them (courts) not to be vindictive or seek to settle unknown scores,” Hlophe said.

Klaas said correctional facilities in the province had to accept offenders referred by courts even though they were bursting at the seams. According to the latest statistics, the Western Cape is one of the provinces with extremely overcrowded prisons.

Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS) spokesperson Emerentia Cupido said in its inspections, it continually found thousands of inmates were sentenced to direct imprisonment of less than 24 months.

“The JICS agrees with the judiciary in the Western Cape that our facilities are unnecessarily overcrowded, and that the lower courts, when exercising their discretion in determining an appropriate sentence, should refrain from imposing short-term custodial sentences. Insofar as remand detainees are concerned the department has a range of legislative provisions at their disposal that were specifically enacted by Parliament to permit the department to address grossly overcrowded facilities,” Cupido said.

Judge Siraj Desai said: “Any form of recklessness often places the lives of ordinary South Africans at risk, and often leads to broken families as most parents stand to lose their employment due to incurring a criminal record.”

In December 2016 the Western Cape High Court had instructed the department to reduce overcrowding to below 150%, but most correctional facilities were reporting that prisoner populations were again increasing.

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Cape Argus

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