It has cost the Department of Correctional Services R9.8 billion to keep prisoners behind bars as well as monitor those on parole in the past five months, a committee in Parliament was told on Wednesday.
Incarceration alone cost R6.5 billion.
According to its annual report for 2014/15 the department had 243 correctional facilities.
In the last year, electronic monitoring devices were used to monitor 748 offenders in South Africa.
It has been so successful in fact, the Department of Correctional Services now wants more money to buy additional devices to help it deal with overcrowding in prisons.
According to the department, it cost R167.33 a day to release a prisoner with a monitoring device while it cost R350 a day to have the prisoner incarcerated.
But it said due to budget constraints, it had already been forced to cut back on the number of inmates it had hoped to fit with the washable and reusable electronic devices. The department had hoped to fit 10,000 inmates.
Chief director of correctional services Phumla Mathibela said she believed electronic monitoring was the future because it gave the offender the chance to reintegrate into society, be with their families, and even go back to work.
Director of Supervision Ronald Ntuli explained that when a prisoner was released on parole, the global positioning co-ordinates of his or her home were recorded, as were the co-ordinates of areas to which the offender was restricted. This was combined with curfew times and the GPS co-ordinates of prohibited zones.
If an offender left a permitted zone, or entered a prohibited zone – such as a bar – a warning was triggered to a control room.
The offender would be contacted and warned, or, depending on the situation, a rapid response team could be sent.
Five types of devices were used and one, the Victim Protection Device could warn a victim when an offender was approaching.
One component of the device was attached to the offender, and the victim was given the other to carry so that if the offender approached the victim, an alarm would be sent to a control centre and teams mobilised to prevent contact.
Mathibela said the benefits of the devices outweighed the disadvantages because not only did they provide alternative sentencing options to judges and magistrates but it was also an option for use on people who couldn’t pay a fine or who qualified for bail, but couldn’t afford it.
The device could also alert the control room to possible violations by people considered a flight risk and could even provide an alibi.
The downsides reported by offenders was that they were embarrassing or uncomfortable, and that they hampered getting a job, but Mathibela said there were offenders who went to work wearing the devices.