South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Friday some low-risk prisoners would be granted parole to help curb the spread of the coronavirus in correctional facilities.
Around 19,000 people would be freed by the move, taken in response to a U.N. call on all countries to reduce prison populations so that social distancing and self-isolation conditions could be observed, Ramaphosa said.
South Africa, which long battled high crime rates and violence against women and children, has 155,000 prisoners. The country of 58 million has recorded 8,232 cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday and 161 deaths.
"In South Africa, as in many other countries, correctional facilities have witnessed outbreaks of coronavirus infections among inmates and personnel," Ramaphosa's statement said.
Ramaphosa said the parole, which follows similar moves in other countries, would apply to low-risk inmates who have passed their minimum detention period.
Inmates sentenced to life terms or convicted of serious crimes, including sexual offences, murder and attempted murder, gender based violence and child abuse would not be eligible and offenders would be arrested if they violated release conditions.