Jailbirds appeal long sentences

Prison authorities confirmed recently that at present 52 prisoners are serving sentences of between 41 and 50 years, and 37 prisoners are serving sentences of 51 or more years.

30 December 2019 | Justice

At least three inmates facing decades behind bars with no prospect of release have taken steps to reduce the ultra-long sentences they are serving after these were declared unconstitutional in a landmark Supreme Court ruling last year.

In the 2018 State versus Gaingob judgement it was held that jail terms that exceed the life expectancy of an accused and results in an informal life sentence with little chance of release are cruel and inhumane.

The Namibian Correctional Services (NCS) confirmed recently that at present 52 prisoners are serving sentences of between 41 and 50 years, and 37 prisoners are serving sentences of 51 or more years.

The option of parole for these 84 prisoners will come much later than the 25 years minimum time to be served by the 42 lifers currently incarcerated.

Last year the Supreme Court pointed out that while lifers become eligible for parole after 25 years, in a fixed sentence parole becomes a possibility only after having served two thirds of a sentence.

In cases of jail terms longer than 37 and half years it would mean the fixed sentence is harsher than a life sentence, “the most onerous and serious sentence”, the court found.

An affidavit by the attorney-general's office underlined that “death should not be the only hope of release that such an offender has of ever being released.”



Reduce

Office of the Judiciary spokesperson Ockert Jansen confirmed that following the ruling last year, the Supreme Court has received two applications from inmates seeking to reduce their jail terms.

A third inmate, Tuhafeni Berendisa Kutamudi, was given the green light by the High Court to appeal his 85-year sentence for triple murder handed down in 2005.

Kutamudi would only become eligible for parole after serving 56 and a half years.

High Court judge Orben Sibeya in October said leave to appeal was granted because Kutamudi's prospects to succeed, based on the Gaingob ruling last year, were reasonable.

The judge underlined that the court cannot obstruct Kutamudi's “attempt to have his sentence reduced to the constitutionally permitted terms of imprisonment.”

Since the ruling the Supreme Court has received a number of letters from inmates serving ultra-long sentences, Jansen said, but as these are not legal applications they cannot be processed.

He explained the correct procedure is to submit a legal application for leave to appeal through the Registrar of the High Court.

Ombudsman John Walters this week said in most cases, the Supreme Court would likely reduce the sentences to life imprisonment, the harshest sentence now available.

He warned that inmates should be aware that life imprisonment means that should the conditions for parole be met, they would be released from prison on lifelong parole.

He warned that in such cases, if a parolee is convicted of another crime, they would be returned to prison for life, with no possibility of release.

Rehab

Among some of Namibia's record-breaking prison terms was an effective sentence of 110 years to which serial child rapist and murder convict Quinton Pieters was sentenced in 2015.

In 2011 Jeckonia Hamukoto, convicted of a triple murder, was given an effective 90-prison term.

In 2011, Ernestus Aibeb was sentenced to an effective 87 years behind bars for the murder of two young children and their aunt.

Also in 2011, Sylvester Beukes, who massacred eight people, was sentenced to an effective 105 years in prison, while his brother Gavin Beukes was handed an effective prison term of 84 years.

The Supreme Court judgment last year stressed that parole is not automatic and that the National Release Board must be satisfied that offenders meet the requirements for parole and release back into society. The judgement however stated that ultra-long sentences were a tool judges applied to ensure that convicts do not stand a chance for release.

The deputy commissioner-general of the NCS, Anna-Rosa Katjivena, said the objective of imprisonment is not only punishment, but also rehabilitation.

“One of the greatest catalysts in the rehabilitation process is hope. It is the hope of release that enables the process of rehabilitation to yield fruitful results. An offender without hope of release will not likely participate in programmes designed to rehabilitate them.”

She said long jail terms further pose an unnecessary financial burden on the state as offenders who could contribute positively towards nation-building are not able to do so because of their sentences.

JANA-MARI SMITH

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