South Africa's 'Faulty' Life Sentences are Catching Up - Prisons Crowded and Costing Citizens (2023)

Long prison sentences – especially life sentences – are not the answer to our country’s disturbing problem of violent crime. And wrong policy on this has given us another, urgent, problem – the bloated numbers of people we lock up for life.

One of our democracy’s first achievements was to abolish judge-sanctioned state killings. The Constitutional Court’s very first hearing was a challenge to apartheid’s death penalty. Shortly after, on 6 June 1995, in internationally acclaimed judgments inS v Maknyane, all eleven Justices struck down the death penalty as incompatible with the new Constitution.

Imprisonment for life is now our ultimate penalty. And the numbers of those imprisoned for life have ballooned astonishingly in our democracy. The latest annual report of the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS), which I head, records that no fewer than 17,188 inmates currently serve life sentences (“lifers”). This is 12% of our total prison population. This is 43 times as many lifers as when we became a democracy (in 1995 there were about 400).South Africa's 'Faulty' Life Sentences are Catching Up - Prisons Crowded and Costing Citizens (1)

These facts put South Africa in a global category of its own – an extreme category. In their authoritative world overview, Dirk van Zyl Smit and Catherine Appletonshowthat, just in the years between 2000 and 2014, South Africa’s lifer population grew by 818% – the highest expansion recorded anywhere (see chart).

In addition, the authors found that, except for the United States and jurisdictions with small populations, South Africa has the highest lifer population per 100,000 people.

South Africa's 'Faulty' Life Sentences are Catching Up - Prisons Crowded and Costing Citizens (2)

Source: Van Zyl Smit and Appleton Life Imprisonment: A Global Human Rights Analysis (2019, Harvard University Press)

South Africa is not alone in imprisoning large numbers of people for life. There is an obvious inverse relation between life imprisonment and abolishing the death penalty – as countries strike down the death penalty, they increase life sentences. Worldwide, life is a statutory penalty in 183 out of 216 countries and territories. And the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court, which excludes the death penalty, includes life imprisonment.

This has led to worldwide acceleration. In 2014 there were almost half a million people serving life sentences – amammothincrease of 80% since 2000. This trend shows no signs of slowing down. And South Africa is a prime mover here.

And in this seemingly beneficial transition from death, too little scrutiny is given to whether imposing life is fair, or whether procedures for release meet human rights standards.

What does “life imprisonment” mean?

Life imprisonment is a sentence, following a criminal conviction, that gives the state power to detain a person in prison until they die.

For some, a lifeline may exist – a sliver of hope to be released on parole after serving a mandatory minimum part of the sentence (non-parole period). But very few lifers in South Africa benefit from this. That is why our prisons are clogged within an inordinate number of lifers.

Under our statute, absentsubstantial and compelling circumstances, life is obligatory for a distended list of crimes. As Lukas Muntingh, head of UWC’s Civil Society Prison Reform Initiativenotes, life imprisonment is now imposed for offences “that would not have attracted the death penalty, except in the rarest of circumstances.”

These include (as one would expect) premeditated murder, murder committed alongside a robbery with aggravating circumstances, rape of a person under the age of 16 years or of a person who is physically or mentally disabled, or where the survivor was raped more than once (whether by the perpetrator or a co-perpetrator or accomplice (“gang rape”)). But, surprisingly, the list also includes cases where the rapist knows they have HIV, regardless of whether there is transmission or even any risk of it. In addition, life is mandatory for trafficking in persons and for offences related to terrorism, as well as genocide and crimes against humanity.

How did we get to nearly 18,000 lifers?

In striking down the death penalty, the Constitutional Court did not consider when life imprisonment itself may be constitutional.

But it had grave words that foretold our present dilemma. Upholding the right not to be put to death by the state, Justice Ackermann surmised that the state has “a correlative obligation” to protect society from “the unreformed recidivist killer or rapist” who might harm again. Society should be assured, he said, that “such a recidivist will remain in prison permanently.”

The key here is unreformed. A “recidivist” is a convicted criminal who re-offends. It happens. There have been truly horrible cases, recently, of paroled lifers repeatinggruesomecrimes. But thousands more will not – especially those many lifers aged over 50, since research reliably shows that the risk of violent new offences drops sharply as male inmates age.

The Makwanyane ruling ordered those on death row to stay locked up until “appropriate and lawful punishments” were imposed instead (discussed inSibiya). Many of the 300-400 people on death row were given life sentences.

But our new democratic Parliament intervened with a massive blunder. In 1997, it enacted sadlymisdirectedmandatory minimum sentences. The Constitutional Court upheld the new statute (S v Dodo). The result: vastly increased numbers of lifers.

The consequences – for all of us – have been awful. The new mandatory minimums were expressly designed “to encourage courts to impose life imprisonment more often”, van Zyl Smit and Appleton have pointed out. The resultant increase was dramatic – going “far beyond the substitution of life imprisonment for the recently abolished death sentences”.

Worse even, the minimum non-parole period has been steadilypushed upwards. Before 1987, a lifer’s non-parole period was 10 to 15 years. It was then increased to 20 years. But from 1 October 2004, lifers have to serve a minimum of 25 years before becoming eligible for parole.

The Constitutional Court in May 2019 gave a slender straw to those lifers who committed their crimes before 1 October 2004. It struck down asarbitrarythe way the increase in the minimum non-parole period was imposed – the period had to take effect from the date of the offence (not the date of sentencing). If the offence was before 1 October 2004, the more lenient parole regime applied.

Other legislation has exacerbated the problem. In 2008, Regional Courts – who handle the huge bulk of criminal cases – were given the power to impose life (though subject to an automatic right of appeal). Life sentences have massively proliferated.

And a new harsher approach to sexual offences has also played a part. Van Zyl Smit and Appleton note that in 1995, only 4% of those serving life were persons convicted of rape. By 2006, this had ballooned to more than one-fifth (21%) of all life-sentenced inmates, now numbering 6,998.

This arises from our grievous problem of sexual and gender-based violence. We, the crime-fearful public, pressed for these changes.

And politicians, keen to be seen to be taking action, seized upon harsher sentences.

Yet there is a grim truth about harsher sentences: they do not help. There is an unchallengeable fact of penology. It is this: what abates crime is certainty of detection, certainty of follow-up, arrest, arraignment and punishment – not length of sentence.

In short, if you know that you will certainly be caught and punished – regardless of how long your sentence – you are less likely to offend.

But if you think you can get away with it, like most criminals in South Africa, no sentence, however long, will deter you.

The result?Violent crimestill plagues us. We keep huge numbers in prison for life, pointlessly.

The harsh cost of life imprisonment

Then there’s the cost – both to the lifer and to us. Lifers are expensive. Precious public money goes towards housing them every day, every month and every year. The knock-on effect, asLittlepoints out, is overcrowding. This places increasing pressure on prison bed-space – disadvantaging shorter-term and unsentenced prisoners (and creating stresses for the personnel who guard them).

This in turn banefully affects all aspects of prisons, “ranging from food provisioning, health and hygiene to wear and tear on infrastructure”.

And uncertainty about parole (processes are lengthy and unpredictable) takes a toll on lifers’ mental and psychological wellbeing. For them, the“pains of imprisonment”stem from uncertainty (when will they be considered for parole? and released?).

Apart from the inevitable, ordinary, hardships of prison life – the deprivations, the humiliations, the loss of control, loss of loved ones and social contact – some lifers feel hopeless, vulnerable, lonely and trapped.

Worst are those sentenced tolife without parole– an egregious sentence that hollows out any space for redemption, rehabilitation and reform. In effect, it allows a court, in sentencing, to predetermine how the inmate will behave behind bars. It is no surprise that lifers have described it as – “a slow death row” or even “worse than death.”

All this makes life without parole a target for strategic public interest challenge. (But will lawyers take this on pro bono?)

Further, lifers are often subjected to more punitive prison conditions – even though research shows they are not necessarily more of a risk than other inmates.

In South Africa, lifers are often transferred to Pretoria C-Max and even Ebongweni Super-Max, in Kokstad, where security and other harsh measures (including bleak single cells and severely truncated exercise) trump rehabilitation.

What about parole for lifers?

Parole is the lifeblood of the prisons system. My revered former colleague, Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke, once explained this to me: the moment the key turns in the lock, release becomes every inmate’s first thought.

Like other inmates, lifers do not have a right to be released on parole. What they have is a right to be considered after serving their non-parole period.

Judging from the complaints JICS receives, our parole system is over-clogged, inefficient and slow. As I see it, the system is doubly dysfunctional.

First, too many inmates unsuitable for parole are released without sufficient monitoring and opportunities for reintegration. Second – the opposite: too few who deserve release are granted it.

An efficient and rigorous process would upturn these anomalies, keeping bad-risk inmates inside, but releasing more good-prospect inmates.

The parole process for lifers is in particular crisis. JICS receives scores of anguished complaints from lifers. Earlier this year, “concerned lifers” at Witbank Correctional Centre wrote, threatening a hunger strike. They said this was their only remaining option.

We also received a complaint from a 51-year-old inmate who has been in Zonderwater for 31 years. He claimed that, despite positive recommendations and a clean record, he has been denied parole. His lawyers denounced this “travesty of justice”.

As I was writing this, another lifer, entitled to benefit from a lesser non-parole period in line with the 2019 judgment, wrote to me in these tormented words:

“How long will our cries go unanswered? How long will no one talk about this publicly? How long will rehabilitated offenders remain in prison on the whim of a cruel and failing state? How long will valuable taxpayers’ monies be wasted on incarcerating rehabilitated offenders?”

I am not saying all lifers must be released on parole. I am saying only this: life sentences should not be mandatory; and lifers should be rigorously considered for parole when appropriate – and the outcome, with reasons, should be communicated clearly and promptly.

But wait. There’s a further snag. The Correctional Services Act gives only the Minister the power to make the ultimate decision on lifers’ parole (after recommendations by the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board through the National Council). This has led to what seems to be a massive backlog on the Minister’s desk: no fewer than 4,494 lifers are eligible for parole now – but over the past year only 36 were granted parole.

Does the Minister, who is well-respected, but responsible for both Justice and Correctional Services, have the capacity to consider each individual parole application? It is a laborious job – if he considers each application for ten minutes, over seven hours, every day, for seven days a week, the backlog would take 409 days to eliminate. Is this practicable?

We must offer hope to parole-thwarted lifers; without it, the system faces perilous dysfunction.

Some courts have found that life imprisonment can be justified only if the inmate preserves some hope for eventual release. Our own Chief Justice Mahomed,sitting in Namibia, declared that life imprisonment “cannot be justified if it effectively amounts to a sentence which locks the gates of the prison irreversibly” and “without any prospect whatever of lawful escape”. And if release depends “entirely on the capricious exercise of the discretion of the prison or executive authorities”, then “the hope which might yet flicker in the mind and heart of the prisoner is much too faint”.

So where to now?

I do not call for scrapping life imprisonment. There are extremely dangerous criminals who have to be locked securely away for the rest of their natural lives, though they are rare.

My point is that life imprisonment should be employed sparingly, cautiously and justly: not indiscriminately, as it now is. And it should not shut the door permanently on freedom, hope and reform.

And here our minimum sentencing regime is desperately misdirected. Life sentences should be truly discretionary, with no mandatory default.

Forwide-ranging reasons, we have to reconsider our entire sentencing system – and our first step should be to scrap mandatory minimums altogether.

And it is not too late to fix life imprisonment. Van Zyl Smit and Appleton suggest that lifers should face no additional burdens, restrictions and hardships just because they are lifers. They propose principles that promote individualisation, normalisation and progression for lifers. And they underscore how important it is to create a pathway to possible release. (Of course, as Muntingh notes, we must first master all data.)

A fundamental principle in sentencing is the public interest, not public opinion. We cannot assume that life in prison is cushier or kinder than the death penalty. We must rethink our approaches to imprisonment.

This is not only for the sanity, humanity and dignity of our nearly 18,000 lifers. It is for the better good of us all in our crime-ridden society.

Edwin Cameron is a former Judge of the Constitutional Court and heads the Judicial Inspectorate for Correctional Services (JICS).

Views expressed are not necessarily those of GroundUp or SAPeople.


What is the life sentence law in South Africa? ›

Life imprisonment in South Africa has an indeterminate length and may last for the remainder of the offender's life. It is a mandatory punishment for premeditated murder, gang rape, serial rape including rape where the rapist knew they were HIV positive or if the victim was under 16 and/or mentally disabled.

Does the death penalty help overpopulated prisons? ›

Answer and Explanation: No, the death penalty does not help prison overcrowding, since a very small percentage of all prisoners in the United States are on death row.

Why is overcrowding in prisons an issue? ›

The excessive use of pre-trial detention, and the use of prison for minor, petty offences, are critical drivers of prison population rates. Overcrowding, as well as related problems such as lack of privacy, can also cause or exacerbate mental health problems, and increase rates of violence, self-harm and suicide.

How much does imprisonment cost in South Africa? ›

The budget for the Dept of Correctional Services for 2019/20 was R25 316 million which translates to a daily cost per prisoner of roughly R447 or R163 155 per year.

Why is the death sentence banned in South Africa? ›

Arguments against capital punishment are that it is cruel, inhuman, and degrading; it does not deter violent crime; it is irreversible and innocent people may die; it is arbitrary; it is applied most often against blacks; and it violates the accused's right to life.

Is right to life limited in South Africa? ›

Section 11 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa provides that everyone has the right to life.

Is the death penalty a good way to reduce crime? ›

A: No, there is no credible evidence that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than long terms of imprisonment. States that have death penalty laws do not have lower crime rates or murder rates than states without such laws.

How can we fix overpopulation in prisons? ›

The mechanisms for reducing prison overcrowding are listed under three broad options: (1) reducing the number of offenders admitted to prisons, (2) shortening the time offenders spend in prison, and (3) increasing system capacity.

Is the death penalty more expensive per prisoner than life without parole? ›

Much to the surprise of many who, logically, would assume that shortening someone's life should be cheaper than paying for it until natural expiration, it turns out that it is actually cheaper to imprison someone for life than to execute them. In fact, it is almost 10 times cheaper!

What are three causes of jail overcrowding? ›

Factors contributing to jail overcrowding are increased crime levels, mandatory incarceration laws, longer sentences, and delays in litigation.

How is jail time calculated in South Africa? ›

In terms of the trial courts determining the appropriate punishment and jail time, there are three guiding principles that must be considered. They are collectively known as the “triad of Zinn”: the gravity of the offence, the circumstances of the offender, and public interest.

Does overcrowding in prisons cause violence? ›

When overcrowding increased of one point (on a one hundred percent scale), prison violence increased of 0.1 point of percentage. Figure 1 shows that increased levels of overcrowding were associated with higher prevalence estimates of prison violence.

What are prisons like in South Africa? ›

South African prisons are places of extreme violence; assaults on prisoners by correctional guards and other inmates are common and often fatal.

What is the purpose of imprisonment in South Africa? ›

Section 36 of the Correctional Services Act defines the purpose of imprisonment: after having due regard that the deprivation of liberty serves the purposes of punishment, the purpose of a term of imprisonment is to enable the sentenced prisoner “to lead a socially responsible and crime-free life in the future”.

What are the rights of prisoners in South Africa? ›

Everyone has the right to freedom and security of the person, which includes the right a. not to be deprived of freedom arbitrarily or without just cause; b. not to be detained without trial; c. to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources; d. not to be tortured in any way; and e.

Is the death penalty still legal in South Africa? ›

Following the abolition of the death penalty, South Africa's legal framework has shifted to focus on alternative forms of punishment that align with its constitutional values. Life imprisonment is now the most severe penalty that can be imposed for serious offenses, such as murder.

Is death row still a thing in South Africa? ›

The death penalty has returned to South Africa. Although outlawed by the Constitutional Court in its first judgement in 1995, the breakdown in policing in townships and informal settlements has seen a rise in vigilante 'justice'. Once again, public health workers find themselves on the frontline.

What crimes were punishable by death in South Africa? ›

However, except for murder, rape, housebreaking, robbery and sabotage, the death penalty is de facto not applied in practice, and in the last few years only murder and rape and very occasionally robbery have led to capital punishment. The one and only execution for high treason was in 1914.

Do citizens in South Africa have rights? ›

In terms of the Bill of Rights everyone has a right to life, equality and human dignity. All persons have a right to citizenship and security. Persons and groups are entitled to freedom of assembly, association, belief and opinion, and expression.

Is housing a human right in South Africa? ›

The Constitution guarantees access to adequate housing as a basic human right, a pre-requisite for individuals', families' and communities' optimum development. Without the other related socio-economic rights, provision of access to housing is limited in its service delivery.

Does everyone in South Africa have equal rights? ›

The Constitution obliges the South African Government to protect and promote the rights of every individual. It stipulates particularly under the Bill of Rights (Chapter 2) that: Everyone is equal before the law and has the rights to equal protection and benefit of the law.

Why the death penalty is a bad idea? ›

Because of the number of botched executions, the death penalty is often inhumane. It also discriminates based on class and race, can be easily weaponized by governments, and is plagued by high error rates. Perhaps most importantly, the death penalty fails in its primary goal as an effective crime deterrent.

Does the death penalty save lives? ›

Statistical studies and common sense aside, it's undeniable that the death penalty saves some lives: those of the prison guards and other inmates who would otherwise be killed by murderers serving life sentences without parole, and of people who might otherwise encounter murderous escapees.

Why do people support the death penalty? ›

Yet support for the death penalty is strongly associated with a belief that when someone commits murder, the death penalty is morally justified. Among the public overall, 64% say the death penalty is morally justified in cases of murder, while 33% say it is not justified.

What can we replace prisons with? ›

Alternatives to jail and prison currently available can include:
  • fines.
  • restitution.
  • community service.
  • probation.
  • house arrest.
  • inpatient drug/alcohol rehabilitation.
  • inpatient psychiatric treatment, and.
  • work release.

What is the biggest problem in corrections today? ›

Recruitment. Difficulties in retention and recruitment contribute to an oft-cited problem in the world of corrections: issues with staffing levels.

What is the most overpopulated jail? ›

Anybody who has the misfortune to get arrested and imprisoned in Haiti, however, will find themselves in a far more serious situation. The Caribbean nation has the most overcrowded prison system of any country worldwide with its institutions operating at 454 percent capacity.

How much does it cost to execute a prisoner in the US? ›

Study Concludes Death Penalty is Costly Policy

The study counted death penalty case costs through to execution and found that the median death penalty case costs $1.26 million. Non-death penalty cases were counted through to the end of incarceration and were found to have a median cost of $740,000.

How many people have been wrongly executed? ›

The death penalty carries the inherent risk of executing an innocent person. Since 1973, at least 190 people who had been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death in the U.S. have been exonerated.

What crimes are punishable by death? ›

The death penalty can only be imposed on defendants convicted of capital offenses – such as murder, treason, genocide, or the killing or kidnapping of a Congressman, the President, or a Supreme Court justice. Unlike other punishments, a jury must decide whether to impose the death penalty.

What are the main causes of overcrowding in South Africa correctional Centres? ›

As a result of escalating levels of crime in South Africa, correctional centres have become overcrowded because new inmates swell the numbers of those already serving sentences or awaiting trial.

What are the three biggest problems facing incarceration? ›

  • Escalating Violence. The Constitution requires that prison and jail officials protect incarcerated people from physical harm and sexual assault. ...
  • Denying Treatment. ...
  • Tolerating Abuse. ...
  • Enriching Corporations.

What are the 3 effects of overcrowding? ›

Studies indicate that crowding is stressful for children as well as adults, and particularly for women, leading to poor social relationships, poor childcare, aggression or withdrawal.

What is the penalty for corruption in South Africa? ›

Depending on the nature of the corrupt conduct, a Court may impose a sanction of imprisonment and/or a monetary fine. Contraventions of PRECCA, which encompasses the act of bribery, include: A fine of unlimited value; prison sentence (the maximum sentence being life imprisonment);

How many people are in jail South Africa? ›

South Africa
Prison population total (including pre-trial detainees / remand prisoners)151 755 at October 2022 (national prison administration)
Number of establishments / institutions235 (2019 - another 8 establishments are out of use)
Official capacity of prison system108 804 (1.6.2022)
6 more rows

Can a 17 year old go to jail in South Africa? ›

According to the CJA a child above 14, but under 18 years of age have criminal capacity and can be arrested.

Is building more prisons the answer to overcrowding? ›

Building more prisons, or even expanding existing ones, is extremely expensive and also encourages a greater inmate population to thrive. Therefore, more prisons built would mean more crime, more prisoners and more stress on society. As overcrowding in prisons across the nation increases, the solution is still simple.

What are the problems with overcrowding? ›

Effects on quality of life due to crowding may include increased physical contact, lack of sleep, lack of privacy and poor hygiene practices. While population density offers an objective measure of the number of people living per unit area, overcrowding refers to people's psychological response to density.

When did prisons become overcrowded? ›

Prison overcrowding has become a growing social problem in the United States as state incarceration rates increased from the 1970s, peaking in 2008.

Do prisoners work in South Africa? ›

South African prisoners, with the exception of pre-trial detainees, are theoretically obliged to work, although employment is not in fact available to all prisoners.

What are the challenges faced by prisoners in South Africa? ›

South Africa has a 75% overcrowding rate. Moreover, prisoners that belonged to the lower socioeconomic strata prior to their incarceration are more likely to go to prison and receive longer sentences. Furthermore, they become more vulnerable to abuse, illness and even premature death.

How much does it cost per prisoner in South Africa? ›

The budget for the Dept of Correctional Services for 2019/20 was R25 316 million which translates to a daily cost per prisoner of roughly R447 or R163 155 per year.

How many years is a life sentence in South Africa? ›

This means that an offender sentenced to life imprisonment has to be on parole for the rest of his life unless he or she is pardoned, or the sentence is commuted by the president under section 84 of the constitution.

How long do you go to jail for murdering someone in South Africa? ›

Murder is an offence under section 11 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act. It is punishable by a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

What is the maximum sentence for assault in South Africa? ›

The maximum penalty for a basic assault which causes harm is imprisonment for three years. For an aggravated offence of assault causing harm, the maximum penalty is four years imprisonment.

What is the inhumane treatment of prisoners in South Africa? ›

Inmates and remand detainees experience extreme overcrowding and inhumane living conditions, including: poor ventilation; inadequate ablution facilities; lack of sanitation and privacy; a shortage of beds and bedding; insufficient supervision and oversight; and poor healthcare provision.

Do prisoners make money in South Africa? ›

Daily prisoner entitlements

Prisoners are entitled to a small sum of money each day. This amount can vary depending upon: behaviour. work activities.

Can a prisoner get married South Africa? ›

The prisoner must make a written request for a wedding or civil union service and seek an interview with the unit PCO. The PCO will ensure the Prisoner's File Notes is updated, that a request has been received for a wedding / civil union service.

Is 25 years considered a life sentence? ›

A one-life sentence imposes an obligation on a defendant to serve 15 to 25 years in prison until the eligibility of parole. The sentence depends on the gravity of the crime and on the jurisdiction in which the defendant is tried. Parole is usually granted to individuals who have displayed good behavior.

How does sentencing work in South Africa? ›

The trials courts of South Africa are primarily responsible for sentencing. It is well within their discretion to determine the type and severity of a sentence on a case-by-case basis. High Courts hear only the most serious criminal cases, while Magistrates' in the Regional Courts try all crimes except treason.

How long does life sentence last for? ›

Life imprisonment is any sentence of imprisonment for a crime under which convicted people are to remain in prison for the rest of their natural lives or indefinitely until pardoned, paroled, or otherwise commuted to a fixed term.

How many years is life sentence in USA? ›

A life sentence from a federal court will therefore result in imprisonment for the life of the defendant unless a pardon or reprieve is granted by the President, if, upon appeal, the conviction is quashed, or compassionate release is granted.

Do life sentences have a limit? ›

Consecutive Life Sentences

In the United States, people serving a life sentence are eligible for parole after 25 years. If they are serving two consecutive life sentences, it means they have to wait at least 50 years to be considered for parole.

Why do judges sentence over 100 years? ›

Sentencing laws vary across the world, but in the United States, the reason people get ordered to serve exceptional amounts of prison time is to acknowledge multiple crimes committed by the same person. “Each count represents a victim,” says Rob McCallum, Public Information Officer for the Colorado Judicial Branch.

What are punishment goals in South Africa? ›

Learning Objective

Punishment has five recognized purposes: deterrence, incapacitation, rehabilitation, retribution, and restitution.

Is the South African justice system effective? ›

SADC criminal justice systems are generally weak in responding to organised crime, particularly in financial crimes and money-laundering.

Can you be sentenced without a trial in South Africa? ›

In our law no one may be detained without trial. If an accused is arrested, they are normally kept in prison or the police cells till the trial is finalised to ensure they attend the court case.

Can an 80 year old go to jail in South Africa? ›

Crime and punishment has no age limit. There is no guaranteed reprieve for the oldest members of society if they kill, hurt or violate others in the community. They may be frail or sick, but if the justice system rules them able to face a custodial sentence, they may have to live out their final years behind bars.

Can a 13 year old be charged with assault in South Africa? ›

The CJA states further that it can be presumed that a child older than 12 years but below the ages of 14 years lacks criminal capacity, unless the State Prosecutor proves that he/she has criminal capacity. Such a child can be arrested.

What is a first time offender in South Africa? ›

First-time offenders are convicts who have no previous criminal record. Such convicts are subject to the First Offender Act that guides courts on how to treat them. The Act recommends ways of treating the offender such that they are rehabilitated without the stigma of incarceration.

How much is a life sentence worth? ›

The study concluded it cost the state an average of $45,000 each year to incarcerate a prisoner serving a sentence of life without parole. The scope of studies conducted at the state-level also vary.

What is a life sentence plus 15 years? ›

An example of a life sentence with the possibility of parole is when an offender is sentenced to serve a term of “15 years to life.”

What crimes are punishable by life without parole? ›

Life without parole sentences may be imposed for crimes such as:
  • First degree murder.
  • Felony murder.
  • Rape, if the defendant has previously been convicted of rape.
  • Sexual penetration, if during the commission of the crime the defendant tortured the victim.
  • Lewd or lascivious acts, if committed during a burglary.


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