‘Introduce open prison system for females’

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President Robert Mugabe on Wednesday pledged to revamp the prison system and ensure non-serious offenders were spared from sharing the same prison cells with hard-core criminals.

President Mugabe was speaking during the official opening of the Fourth Session of the Seventh Parliament of Zimbabwe where he announced a new legislative agenda for Parliament.

“Government is also mobilising resources for a pilot project under which juvenile offenders for non-serious offences can be diverted from the criminal justice system and dealt with through a less formal system,” he said.

“Following the success of the Connemara Open Prison system, serious consideration is now being given to the possibility of introducing an open prison system for all local female offenders.”

In 2004, the then Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa said the introduction of an open prison system for female inmates at a farm in Mashonaland East was long overdue.

Zimbabwe’s first open prison, Connemara Prison, was opened in September 2000 to cater for male inmates. The late former President Canaan Sodindo Banana served his jail term at the prison.

Then, Chinamasa said the introduction of open prison system for women would be a relief to female inmates who constituted about 3,5% of Zimbabwe’s prison population.

He said most of those women were booked in for crimes that largely did not require custodial sentences.

Female inmates in Zimbabwe’s jails can also be imprisoned with babies and these children often suffer with their mothers since the government does not include their rations in its Budget for prisons.

The system is meant to decongest the country’s prisons with reports most of them were overcrowded and operating on shoe-string budget.