Sibusiso Ndebele has been at the helm of the correctional services portfolio for only six months. He was moved from the transport ministry in June at the height of the e-tolling saga. It is widely believed it was because of his poor handling of the matter, which resulted in an interdict being granted against the implementation of the controversial project.
But Ndebele inherited another hot potato. In his first week in office he had to announce the release from prison of the disgraced former police boss Jackie Selebi, thanks to a new government policy on medical parole for terminally ill prisoners.
Granted, Ndebele has nothing to do with who qualifies for parole, but considering how the system was abused before by those politically well connected, the public and opposition are scrutinising it closely.
Under the new framework, drastic changes have been made to the conditions under which the department grants medical parole. A team of medical practitioners must now decide on the medical condition of prisoners, but critics say the new policy will open the gates to a stream of unwarranted applications.
During the past six months, Ndebele has made a great deal of noise about overcrowding, alternative sentencing and empowering detainees with skills to ensure that once they leave prison they do not resort to crime again. But he has not been big on detail.
In November, he warned about overcrowding in South Africa`s jails and said it could be the consequence or lack of adequate infrastructure, or a result of the overuse of imprisonment in the penal system. Among his proposals to combat the problem was the introduction of penalties other than imprisonment for first-time offenders.
Earlier in the year, Ndebele announced that it would be compulsory for all inmates to complete an adult basic education training programme. This was widely welcomed, but it is still not clear how it will be implemented.
We say it`s time Ndebele walked the talk.
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