South Africa has placed around 12 percent of its prison population on parole to combat the spread of coronavirus in correctional facilities, the presidency said.
At least 172 inmates and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 so far, raising concern prisons could turn into infection hot spots.
South Africa’s Eastern Cape province is the worst affected, with 102 confirmed cases and two deaths.
Another death is under investigation in the Western Cape.
President Cyril Ramaphosa authorised the temporary release of certain inmates following a call by the United Nations to reduce prison populations worldwide in order to limit the spread of coronavirus.
“The decision taken by the President to combat the spread of Covid-19 in correctional centres could relieve correctional services facilities of just under 19,000 inmates out of a population of 155,000,” said a statement by the presidency on Friday.
The parole will only apply to “low-risk” inmates.
It excludes those sentenced to life imprisonment or serving terms for serious crimes such as murder and sexual offences.
The selection and placement of qualifying offenders will take place over a 10-week period.
To date South Africa has recorded 8,232 cases of coronavirus, including 161 deaths.