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South Africa president pardons 35,000 offenders to ease prison overcrowding

South African President Jacob Zuma [BBC profile] announced Saturday that he will be issuing pardons [text], known as "special remissions," to 35,000 offenders in order to ease prison overcrowding. The remissions were issued in honor of Freedom Day commemorating Nelson Mandela [BBC profile] winning the nation's first all-race elections in 1994. According to the police minister [AP report], 14,600 of the offenders will be "conditionally or unconditionally" released from prison, and 20,000 offenders' parole or probation sentences will be dismissed. The president is granted this power under Section 84(j) of the South African Constitution [text, PDF].

Prison overcrowding is a common problem across the globe. In February Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] called for the reduction of overcrowding [JURIST report] to improve poor prison conditions in Latin America following a prison fire in Honduras. In August Venezuelan Minister for Prisons Iris Varela announced that she plans to release up to 40 percent [JURIST report] of the country's prisoners in an effort to reduce prison overcrowding. The US also has prison overcrowding concerns, particularly in California. Last year, the US Supreme Court upheld [opinion, PDF] an order requiring California to release up to 46,000 prisoners [JURIST report] to remedy the state's overcrowded prisons. California submitted a plan to comply with the court's order, but the state's Legislative Analyst's Office has concluded that California is unlikely to meet [JURIST reports] the Supreme Court's two-year deadline.

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