On April 27, South Africans probably had mixed feelings about the announcement by President Jacob Zuma of a special remission of sentence to certain categories of offenders in the spirit of Freedom Day.

Crimes such as murder, robbery, kidnapping, arson and public violence were excluded from the remission.

No mention was made of the special remission being a means to alleviate overcrowding in correctional facilities. Any view that suggests this is incorrect. As much as overcrowding has eased as a result of special remission releases, it was by a marginal fraction. The remission process allowed for a 10-week release period that ended on July 6, with 25338 parolees and probationers being released from the system of community corrections. These offenders had participated in skills development and correctional programmes.

Many of them have long ago started to reconstruct their lives using the skills acquired during the rehabilitation programmes.

Apart from the 25338 parolees and probationers, a further 16394 sentenced offenders were released by June 22. This brought the total number of releases to 41732. Of the 16394 releases from correctional centres, 10222 (62%) have been released "unconditionally", while 6172 (38%) have been released conditionally into the system of community corrections.

In the department's view, one re-offender is one too many. However, it is inevitable that of the more than 40000 offenders who benefited from the special remission, some are likely to re-offend.

We believe in our skills development and correctional programmes. Some former offenders have taken the opportunity of a second chance by participating in rehabilitation programmes in further education and training to become plumbers, upholsterers, welders, builders, etc. Many have benefited from computer training provided in our facilities. Having said that, rehabilitation by its nature cannot be guaranteed because some offenders go through all the programmes because it is a perceived passage for parole consideration.

We support Mr Zuma's call for community leaders and family members to welcome offenders back and guide them in the process of taking their place in the family and in the community so they are encouraged to avoid repeat offending.

Special remission is a normal practice in democracies worldwide and it is used to recognise or commemorate special events in the life of a country. Since 1994, special remissions of sentence have been granted to mark the inauguration of president Nelson Mandela, the celebration of the first anniversary of democracy, and the 80th birthday of Mr Mandela.

Nontsikelelo Jolingana

Acting national commissioner of correctional services