Working towards a more effective parole system
Updated: Apr 14
Writer: Silusapho Nyanda
The deaths of two Western Cape children, allegedly at the hands of two men out on parole, has brought into sharp focus the systems used to determine who is released on parole.
Questions raised include how those who are paroled are chosen, especially those who have been convicted of gender-based violence (GBV) crimes, and whether the rehabilitative nature of the country’s correctional services system is working.
Moyhdian Pangarker (54) has been arrested for allegedly murdering eight-year-old Tazne van Wyk from Worcester, while another parolee, Jacobus Pistoors (53), has been arrested for allegedly murdering Reagan Gertse from Tulbagh.
Pangarker, who was arrested in Cradock in the Eastern Cape after being on the run for two weeks, was released on parole in 2016 after serving eight years of a 10-year culpable homicide conviction. He subsequently broke his parole conditions and absconded.
Pistoors had been released on parole four months before he allegedly murdered Reagan. He had served seven years of a 12-year sentence after being convicted of the rape of a five-year-old child. According to media reports, Pistoors was a relative of Reagan and lived two shacks away from the young boy.
Time to re-evaluate
The outcry following these incidents has led to the Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, Ronald Lamola, announcing that the department is looking at reviewing the systems parole boards use in determining who gets paroled.
“If a case of Tazne or Reagan does not give us a perspective about reforming the parole system, nothing else will. Whilst we may argue that our parole system is flawed, but not broken, we should not be satisfied with a system that is not predictable,” said the Minister.
He added that decision-making processes require a degree of particularity that enables officials to predict with certainty whether offenders are equipped to re-engage with society.
Parole is part of the total rehabilitation programme. It aims to correct offending behaviour and may include the continuation of programmes aimed at reintegration whilst in the system of community corrections.
The system not only assists with the social re-integration of offenders but also provides a monitoring mechanism to manage the risk offenders may pose to the community.
“It is worth noting that offenders do not qualify for automatic placement on parole. A number of factors are considered by the head of the correctional centre, parole board or myself, as the Minister, depending on the category of the crime, before placement is approved.”
Asking hard questions
In light of the recent incidents, Minister Lamola said there is an urgent need to review the various rehabilitation programmes that parolees undergo to “equip them with skills to assist them to abhor their previous life of crime”.
“We are now more than ever required to ask ourselves hard questions about the parole system we administrate in the name of the people. The very essence of the Freedom Charter which proclaimed a system driven and geared towards rehabilitation instead of vengeance is now under intense scrutiny.”
He added that the Department of Correctional Services lies at the core of transforming societies and individuals when all else has failed.
“Wherein ordinarily, our role is to remove individuals from society who have lost their humanity, we also somehow ensure that we reintroduce these individuals to their original selves after effective rehabilitation from their offending behaviour.”
Minister Lamola acknowledged that the department has been found wanting in its mandate with regard to the deaths of Tazne and Reagan. The outcomes of these fault lines in the system are too “ghastly to bear”, he says, as they led to the loss of a daughter and a son.
To address the shortcomings, going forward, people with expert knowledge of human and criminal psychology will be used to assess potential parolees.
“We will embark on a process that ensures that the parole boards’ decision-making processes withstand any type of scrutiny.”
All criminal justice system role players will collaborate to ensure that only qualifying offenders receive parole. The South African Police Service will help in the process by ensuring that before parole is granted, reports from social workers and psychiatrists, who assesses the impact of the crime, are placed before the parole board for consideration.
Interests of society
The proposed reforms in the system should reflect the interests of society by including detailed preventative and corrective measures for parole violations.
“We must also strengthen our monitoring mechanisms through community structures such as community policing forums, non-governmental organisations, faith-based organisations and other relevant bodies,” said Minister Lamola.
“We are currently in consultation with the National Council for Correctional Services on the parole reforms that will ensure the system is responsive to the needs of society.”
In addition, measures will be taken to ensure that officials tasked with the administration of parole do not circumvent the requirements of the Act and the resolve to create a victim-centric system.
“Now, more than ever, we need robust, transparent and consistent practices for managing the consequences of non-compliance across the board. Parole boards across the country must be sensitive to the public outcry on GBV and crime in general. The actions of the parole boards must enhance the administration of justice in general.”
With regard to the killings of Tazne and Reagan, the Minister said the state will use all the tools at its disposal to ensure that the perpetrators never walk free again.