The government says the introduction of a new dietary regime in the country’s prisons should significantly improve inmates’ health conditions.
In a statutory instrument published last Friday, the government gazetted an improved diet for prisoners, which entitles them to be served with healthy food which includes meat, offals, fish, beans, peas, groundnuts, rice, potatoes, bread, sadza and fruits.
This follows a national and international outcry over malnourishment faced by inmates in recent years as Zimbabwe went through its worst economic recession.
Obert Gutu (OG), Justice and Legal Affairs deputy minister told NewsDay that improvement of the prisoners’ rations is aimed at ensuring that they access a nutritious diet. Below is Gutu’s response to questions in an interview with NewsDay’s (ND) Feluna Nleya.
ND: With regards to the new regulations contained in the Government Gazette dated August 26 2011 how different is the new from the old diet which was there?
OG: There is not much difference, really, only that the new diet is more diverse and more balanced. The whole idea is to enable prisoners to have a diet that is balanced and nutritious. But people should always remember that a prison is a prison; it is not a luxury hotel.
ND: As a ministry, do you think you will be able to sustain the new diet?
OG: The question of affordability is neither here nor there because there are a lot of factors that come into play. For instance, prisons are mostly funded by treasury although now and again we get both material and logistical support from other non-State actors such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The ideal situation is for the government to fully fund the running of all prisons, but we all know that Treasury’s resources are over-stretched at the moment and it will take quite some time before our prisons are adequately funded by treasury.
Nevertheless, as the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs we will bend over backwards to ensure that the new prison dietary regime is adhered to.
ND: How many prisons do we have in the country?
OG: We have about 68 prisons in Zimbabwe.
ND: What challenges have you been facing in feeding prisoners?
OG: The main challenge is that of lack of adequate funding from treasury. We understand that Treasury has gone out of its way to provide funding for the running of our prisons and this is the reason why there is no longer starvation at our prisons.
Thanks to Treasury, our prisoners are generally well-fed and they are in reasonably good health. People should also know that we are in the process of transforming our prisons into modern correctional facilities where they are taught skills to help them sustain a crime-free lifestyle when they are released from prison.
A good number of prisoners have successfully managed to be trained as artisans and some other professions during their time of incarceration. We have also managed to come up with one of Zimbabwe’s most talented gospel music groups composed of serving prisoners. I am sure most people have had an opportunity to listen to the soothing gospel songs of the group Divine Touch!
ND: How will this diet change the lives of prisoners?
OG: As I have already stated, the whole idea is to have a balanced and nutritious diet for all our prisoners. Of course, the lives of prisoners will be made a lot better if they get a healthy, balanced diet instead of sadza and beans each and every day. All things being equal, we expect the prisoners’ health to significantly improve because they will have access to a balanced diet.
ND: What other challenges are you facing as a ministry on prisons?
OG: We have more than 14 500 prisoners in our prisons at the moment. This is a fairly huge number, but the good news is that our prisons are no longer over-crowded.
The holding capacity of all the prisons in the county is about 17 000. Prisons need to be adequately funded and resourced if we are to successfully transform them into modern correctional facilities.
Most of the country’s prisons were built almost a century ago and therefore, there is an urgent need to renovate them and in some cases to totally demolish those prisons that are no longer suitable for human habitation.
We are pleased to advise that a modern prison has just been completed at Mazoe Prison farm and indeed, that should be the way to go. We hope and trust the Treasury will allocate a significant amount to the department of prisons during the next Budget to enable our prisons to be professionally run.
We also need our prison officers, who have been very hard working and patriotic in very trying times, to have their conditions of service improved. Prison officers should be provided with decent housing as well as decent uniforms. They play a crucial role in the transformation of our prisons into modern correctional facilities.
We should not just focus on the welfare of prisoners; we should always appreciate the very important role that is played by our prison officers at all the country’s prisons.
I would like to thank all prison officers for their sterling work in an otherwise very depressing working environment.