The Public Servants Association (PSA) has warned of a potential severe shortage of police officers, saying members may face immense pressure with the planned release of up to 19,000 prisoners on early parole.
Thousands of inmates in South Africa’s overcrowded prison system are set to be released on early parole in line with a presidential request.
Police face staffing shortage
President Cyril Ramaphosa has instructed the parole system to fast-track the release of up to 19,000 prisoners. This measure is aimed at mitigating the risk of a major outbreak of COVID-19 in South Africa’s heavily overcrowded prison system.
While the criteria excludes violent criminals, there are grave concerns that releasing prisoners, who would struggle to obtain employment in the best circumstances, during a national lockdown that severely restricts economic activity.
The South African Police Service are a vital cog in the country’s distaster management plan but Union PSA warn they could face ‘extreme pressure’ once 19,000 ex-convicts are roaming free.
Planned release of 19,000 prisoners bad news for police
“The availability of sufficient manpower is not negotiable, and this need is set to increase with the recent announcement made by President Cyril Ramaphosa that almost 19,000 inmates who committed ‘petty’ crimes would be released on parole,” a PSA Statement issued on Wednesday 13 May 2020 reads.
The Union were concerned that fast-tracking parole for petty criminals could put SAPS members and the public at risk.
“Without any proof of rehabilitation, they may return to crime with more serious offences resulting from their interaction with hardened criminals, thereby creating more pressure on existing members,” PSA warned.
An unsafe working environment
PSA believe that Police Minister Bheki Cele and the National Command Council aren’t doing enough to ensure the safety of SAPS members during the COVID-19 crisis.
“The PSA represents thousands of employees and is of the view that Saps is failing in its duty to ensure a safe working environment for its employees and not taking proactive steps to reduce the risk to police officers,” it said.
“SAPS must endeavour to screen and test members on an ongoing basis when reporting in the morning and when knocking off after their shift [and ensure the] provision of surgical masks [and] mandatory screening by the department of health to include off-duty members.
“Some members have already raised concerns regarding the limited availability of tools for testing and screening.”
Last week Cele confirmed 253 police officers had tested positive for coronavirus and on 13 May it was confirmed that the Eastern Cape commissioner had the virus.