Halfway house plan ‘off the table’

The Universitas house that had been identified as a possible halfway house for prisoners on parole. PHOTO: PIERCE VAN HEERDEN

The Department of Correctional Services in the Free State has decided not to go ahead with plans to open a halfway house for prisoners in Universitas in Bloemfontein.

The department said the disapproval displayed by the residents of Universitas is one of the main reasons why the project will no longer be continuing.

This comes after a house in the area had been identified as a possible choice to house prisoners on parole. The department spokesperson, Puleng Mokhoane, told Bloemfontein Courant that the department will never force or impose any decision that is not supported by a community. She explained that they had to stop it after realising that this idea did not sit well with the community.

“The idea behind a halfway house is that those parolees are supported and accepted by the community they are placed in. So, if from the word go they do not get that support, we have no reason to go on with it,” Mokhoane explained.

She said that at this point there are no plans or possible new areas for this halfway house, as it is a process to start looking for one. “There is a certain stigma connected to parolees that makes it difficult to get acceptance from communities or even to get a house to rent.”
Mokhoane said that this has been the second incident of its kind that the department is dealing with it. She added that these incidents are not often as there aren’t many of these halfway houses at the moment.

“If we get resistance from a community, we immediately start looking for an alternative,” she said.

This comes after videos had spread like wildfire on social media where Universitas residents, including numbers of students, were shown expressing their discomfort and unhappiness. According to these residents, this halfway house would bring new crime into the already affected area. One of the students living in the area explained at the meeting, which was attended by more than 300 people, that she had been robbed earlier that morning and feared that if the project continued, it would get worse.

The Democratic Alliance’s (DA) ward 23 councillor, Tjaart van der Walt, told Bloemfontein Courant that the process that was followed was problematic to begin with. He spoke to a few people in the area who said that they had only found out about the meeting that would be held on Wednesday (15th May) and the reason for it at around 17:00 on the Tuesday (14th May). He said another problem with having a halfway house in an area such as this, was the fact that it is filled with students who are seen as soft targets by criminals because they carry many valuables with them.

“Just to show the weight of the disapproval by the community, over 800 people signed an online form saying that they do not support the halfway house idea and with them only being notified in less than 24 hours, people came out in their numbers,” he explained.

Van der Walt said that for a residential house to be used for anything else but living in it, rezoning needed to be done at the municipality and he personally went to find out if this had been done. It had not, but in spite of that residents were told that the parolees would be moving in by Monday this week, which did not happen. – Sazly Hartzenberg