Hope for prisoners awaiting trial who cannot afford bail

June 11 2011 – Scores of awaiting trial detainees who are languishing in prison because they can’t afford to pay bail of R1 000 or less might now be out of prison sooner than they thought. Ananias Ndlovu writes for the Saturday Star.

Legal Aid South Africa (LASA) has embarked on a national campaign to identify all those granted R1 000 bail or less but who were unable to pay this amount, and LASA is trying to negotiate lesser bail or to arrange for these remand detainees to be released on warning.

According to the law, courts are supposed to use a two-stage approach when granting bail: first, the court must decide whether the interests of justice permit a suspect to be released on bail, and second, what amount of bail the suspect should pay.

The Soweto branch of LASA, known as the Soweto Justice Centre, has already identified about 483 inmates who were granted R1 000 or less bail, 10 of whom are female. This coming Monday [COR] LASA believes it will be able to give a report on each case it is handling. LASA has already started to negotiate with different magistrates to allow the detainees to pay less and/or be released on warning.

The reason is to unclog the congested, slow-moving court system and to alleviate overcrowding in prisons. Many awaiting-trial inmates are teenagers and are being held for relatively minor offences such as common assault, possession of dagga, theft, shoplifting and housebreaking. Suspects being held for armed robbery, rape or murder are not being considered in the scheme.

Anton Crouse from the Justice Centre said more than 200 of those at the Johannesburg Correctional Centre, aka Sun City, who are being considered, are represented by LASA lawyers, while others were represented by pro bono lawyers or others.

Crouse said LASA was checking each case to find out exactly why bail was not affordable. Thereafter, LASA attorneys would attend each court case to have bail reduced or to have inmates released on warning. LASA is using its 38 legal practitioners to get names, addresses, and charges, reasons for not paying bail and any other valuable information from the inmates.

“We are worried about the number of people who are in prison just because they cannot afford bail. This does not help when it comes to rehabilitation of offenders. They are put in prison charged with minor offences and they might end up being hardcore criminals. It will be the magistrate’s discretion to reduce bail or release the inmate but we are hoping to get positive results. There are several reasons why these inmates are in there but the common one is the inability to afford bail. Some do prefer not to get out for whatever reason but we will treat each case on its merits,” said Crouse.

“Many inmates have been waiting to be tried for periods ranging from a month up to two years and their common response when I asked why they are not paying their bail was that they cannot afford it.  Legal-aid SA believes that the move will curb the overcrowding that has been a problem in South African prisons especially Sun City prison.”

The Medium A Section of the prison, where inmates are awaiting trial prisoners, contains more than twice the number of prisoners it officially has place for. Before the end of this month, LASA hopes to have negotiated a way out of some of the inmates.

Ndlovu works for the Wits Justice Project, which investigates alleged miscarriages of justice.

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About witsjusticeproject
The Wits Justice Project combines journalism, advocacy, law and education to make the criminal justice system work better for all.

One Response to Hope for prisoners awaiting trial who cannot afford bail

  1. Pingback: South Africa: Legal Aid South Africa seeks the release of pre-trial detainees | Pre – Trial Detention Monitor

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