Crime is so bad in South Africa that jails are out of space

The rising crime rate and the increase in life sentences for serious crimes in South Africa is so bad that local prisons are running out of beds to house convicts.

Earlier this year Minister of Justice and Correctional Services Ronald Lamola revealed that there are 162,875 inmates in South African prisons.

There are, however, only beds for 118,572 people in local jails which means that there is a 37% level of overcrowding.

The situation is getting worse with the growing levels of crime in South Africa, especially serious crimes with long sentences.

Drastic measures needed

TimesLive reported that the Department of Correctional Services is so concerned about overcrowding in South African prisons that it is considering drastic measures.

As a first measure the department wants the judiciary to look at alternative forms of punishment to make more space in jails for serious crime.

For less serious crimes, for example, the department wants judges to consider sentences like community correctional supervision.

It is also looking at reviewing cases of minor offenders who are spending time in jail because they could not afford fines.

The department added that there should be a debate on whether sending people to jail is the best way to deal with minor offences.

Increasing crime rates

The South African Police Service (SAPS) has recently released its crime stats for the 2018/19 period, which showed an increase in serious crimes like murder, robbery and sexual offenses.

According to the stats the number of murders increased by 3.4% while common robberies increased by 2%.

Robberies with aggravating circumstances increased by 1.2% while robberies at residential premises increased by 0.8%.

There was some good news. A total of 2.01 million crimes were recorded in 2019 – down from the 2.09 million recorded in 2018.

Impact of crime on the workplace

So bad has the crime epidemic in South Africa become that it is having a negative impact on a large number of workers.

Members of the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the general prevalence of crime is having a traumatic effect on 82% of staff employed.

Just over half of the respondents in a survey issued by the group said that the effect of crime was significant.

The majority of respondents also noted that the effects of crime on staff had resulted in an increased rate of absenteeism.

20.6% of respondents said there was a significant loss of man-hours and 37.4% said there was a slight loss of man-hours.

38% of respondents said they had experienced a criminal act like burglary, robbery, or theft in the past 12 months and in 21% of these cases staff had been physically attacked or threatened by criminals.

Now read: SAPS launches new crime-fighting app

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Crime is so bad in South Africa that jails are out of space