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Prisoners too have rights

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Recent revelations by released human rights activist Cynthia Manjoro that most female prisoners do not have underwear deserves serious interrogation by both the nation and civic groups as it brings to the fore untold suffering by inmates in the country’s correctional institutions.

NewsDay Comment

Lack of sanitary wear, proper clothing and food are other challenges facing prisoners countrywide. The crisis in our prisons cannot be allowed to go unabated as it constitutes gross violation of human rights.

True enough, for being thrown behind bars inmates would have wronged society and deserve incarceration in accordance with the gravity of their crimes.

But for authorities to deny them a decent meal and dignified clothing which include sanitary wear and undergarments is the worst form of neglect and cruelty.

For example, it would only cost the nation $300 to buy one pair of panties for each of the estimated 600 female inmates in the country’s prisons at popular Chinese shops around town, which are literally giving them away for as little as $1 for two.

What it means is, with $3 600, each female prisoner can get 10 panties – enough to last them a whole year.

Sanitary wear, on the other hand, is going for $1 for a pack of 10, meaning if $2 is budgeted for a single inmate per month, the female population in prisons would “gobble” just $14 400 a year.

What this means is Zimbabwe only requires $18 000 to ensure female prisoners have undergarments and sanitary wear for the whole year.  Indeed, the economic environment is still to stabilise as the country recovers from a decade-long recession, but surely, if priorities are to be considered, Zimbabwe cannot fail to raise $15 000 to look after female inmates. Much as they may be deemed “outcasts”,  they too have rights.

Budgetary allocations by Treasury also ought to be brought under the spotlight.In an interview with NewsDay yesterday,  Deputy  Justice minister Obert Gutu said prisons countrywide had been receiving $25 000 a month for the good part of this year to look after some 15 000 inmates, an allocation he described as pathetic. Withdrawal of donor partners earlier this year who felt the country had recovered economically has not helped the situation either.As a result, prisoners are surviving merely on sadza and roasted groundnuts or cabbages.

According to Manjoro, they only ate meat once for the nine months she was behind bars, over allegations of murdering police inspector Petros Mutedza in Glen View, Harare, last year.

Now as budget consultations gather momentum countrywide, it is imperative that Finance minister Tendai Biti and his team visit prisons to get facts on the ground and identify the basic necessities in these institutions.  Yes, food may be a challenge, but the country can afford $15 000 for basic underwear.

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