The Effect of Sentencing on the Size of the South African Prison Population

This report was commissioned by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF) and recently presented at a conference on sentencing held in Cape Town. South Africa has a serious prison overcrowding problem. The total number of prisoners has grown steadily and dramatically over the last 11 years. The cause of the increase has changed during this time. Between 1995 and 2000, the major driver of the prison population rise was a massive increase in the size of the unsentenced prisoner population. After 2000, the number of unsentenced prisoners stabilised, and then began to decrease. But the prisoner population continued to grow, now as a result of an increase in the number of sentenced prisoners. This growth continues, despite the fact that the number of offenders admitted to serve custodial sentences is decreasing. The bulk of this increase consists of prisoners serving long sentences. Thus, the rate of release of sentenced prisoners is slowing down.
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