More than 1,000 people are in jail in Swaziland because they are too poor to pay fines. That is nearly three in ten of the entire prison population.
In Swaziland offenders are often given the option of jail time or paying a fine. There are people in jail because they could not pay fines for a range of matters, including traffic offences, theft by false pretences, malicious injury to property and fraud.
Figures revealed recently show that in Swaziland, where seven in ten people live in abject poverty with incomes less than US$2 per day, 1,053 of 3,615 inmates in Swazi jails were there because they did not have the money to pay the fine option. This is 29.1 percent of the entire prison population.
Correctional Services Commissioner Isaiah Ntshangase said the numbers in prison because they could not pay fines was growing. He wants offenders to be given the option of paying fines in instalments, rather than going to jail.
‘The fact that the courts gave them the option of a fine means that they were not a threat to peace and security. Creating payment terms for those who fail to pay lump sum fines won’t harm anyone,’ the Sunday Observer newspaper in Swaziland reported Ntshangase saying.
He added, ‘Offenders who committed minor offences and qualified for fine but failed to pay should be given a further option of paying such fines in instalments.’
He said often offenders were required to pay the fine immediately of go to jail. They were not given time to raise the money.
‘Once an offender is convicted, his bargain power dwindles. This has caused many to rot behind bars yet they could have been released if they paid the fines,’ he said.
Ntshangase said keeping people out of prison would stop them being exposed to hardened criminals.