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Monday, 11 September, 2000, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Convicts freed to ease jail crowding
Prison
South Africa's prisons are overcrowded
By Ishbel Matheson in Johannesburg

The South African Government has begun to release the first of 18,000 prisoners from jail in a bid to ease overcrowding.

It stresses this is not a prisoner amnesty, as most of those released will be on bail to face trial at a later date.

However the move is controversial in a country where crime levels are exceptionally high.

South Africa's prisons are massively overcrowded - 170,000 people are crammed into jails built to hold 100,000.

According to the Prisoners' Association, the conditions are appalling.

Some inmates sleep on cell floors, and sanitary facilities are often inadequate.

The government says that under current circumstances it cannot carry out prison programmes designed to stop criminals re-offending.

In order to ease overcrowding, 11,000 suspected petty offenders are being released on bail while awaiting trial.

Parole

The government is also to bring forward the parole dates of a further 7,000 "low-risk" prisoners.

Those who have been charged with serious offences, such as rape or murder, are not eligible for the scheme.

However, this exception is unlikely to reassure many victims of crime in South Africa.

One community worker in Johannesburg said he expected those released would simply continue with their life of crime unless proper monitoring programmes were put in place.

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