Selected categories of sentenced offenders are to be placed on parole.
According to the presidency, the decision to release just under 19,000 inmates was taken in order to combat the spread of COVID-19 in correctional facilities.
In a statement, the presidency indicated that prisons are regarded as high-risk areas for infection.
President Ramaphosa has “taken this step in response to a call by the United Nations to all countries to reduce prison populations so that social distancing and self-isolation conditions can be observed during this period”.
The decision was taken in terms of Section 82(1)(a) of the Correctional Services Act of 1998 which empowers the President to “authorise at any time the placement on correctional supervision or parole of any sentenced prisoner, subject to conditions that may be recommended by the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board”.
Parole will be granted to low-risk inmates who have passed their minimum detention period or will approach this period in the next five years.
Inmates sentenced to life imprisonment or serving terms for specified other serious crimes, including sexual offences, murder and attempted murder, gender based violence and child abuse will be excluded.
The presidency emphasized that offenders who violate their release conditions may be arrested and ultimately re-incarcerated.
The justice minister, Ronald Lamola, will provide more details on the parole placement programme in due course.