Paralympian Oscar Pistorius is in line to be eligible for parole much sooner than anyone thought and for the most part, this is due to a rarely noted grey area in judicial and correctional services compliance.
Why was Oscar Pistorius parole eligibility period reduced?
Somewhere between the Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA) and the Department of Correctional Service (DCS), a major blunder was committed.
Here’s the thing. Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide and sentenced to six years in July 2016 for fatally shooting his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013.
When he lodged a review application with the Supreme Court of Appeals (SCA), in 2017, the initial conviction was upgraded to murder and the 34-year-old faced double the time he was previously handed.
Under this new conviction, Pistorius was sentenced to 13 years and five months and since November 2017, he’s been doing time at the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre, in Pretoria.
Here’s where things get complicated. The SCA’s upgraded murder conviction meant that Pistorius would be eligible for parole after serving half of his sentence. In this case, the athlete would enter the 50% mark of his sentence in 2024.
However, his legal team recently argued that this is wholly incorrect since the convicted killer had already been serving time for doing away with Steenkamp, since July 2016, more than a year before the SCA upgraded culpable homicide to murder.
Therefore, the notion that Pistorius started his murder sentence in November 2017 is unfounded. This means that either the SCA or DCS failed to recognise the year-plus bid he did and that, in fact, the 34-year-old will be eligible for parole as early as March 2023.
What will it take for Pistorius to get out of jail?
While this rare occurrence in South Africa’s judiciary may work in Pistorius’ favour, he still has quite a long way to go in getting his way. The fate of his release now lies in the hands of the DCS parole board.
According to the department’s parole policy, offenders can qualify for conditional release once they’ve served half their sentence.
However, this is not as cut-and-dry as it may seem. When an offender is convicted, his tenure in prison is monitored by a sentence plan which, as stipulated by the department, includes reviews on his or her road to rehabilitation.
If it was determined that Pistorius needs extensive education and counselling during the commission of his sentence, a case management committee appointed by the DCS will observe the offender’s compliance with the requirements of the sentence plan and meet with the convict every six months until his time is served.
Factors like behaviour are also important. But, perhaps, the most crucial aspect of this review process involves the victim’s family and an examination of his remorse.
From what we understand, the Steenkamp family has opened up to the idea of meeting with Pistorius for the first time since he murdered their daughter. Whether the outcome of this highly emotive encounter will influence the family’s statements remains to be seen.
The other aspect the parole board has to consider is whether Pistorius has been rehabilitated. Throughout the trial and conviction, the Paralympian has maintained that on that fateful night, where he discharged four gunshots in the toilet Steenkamp was in, he truly believed he was defending himself against a burglar.
This assertion contradicts extensive forensic and circumstantial evidence, including witness accounts from neighbours of the estate he resided in who claimed to have heard a scuffle and screams some time before Steenkamp was fatally shot.
Whether he still holds this belief will weigh heavily in the parole board’s determination of his remorse.