Prison inmates deserve respect

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Senator Michael Carter talks to an inmate at Chikurubi maximum prison.

Reports that Zimbabwe’s prisons now resemble torture camps are harrowing and speaks to government’s failure to deal with the situation in line with the country’s governance charter and the United Nations basic principles for the treatment of prisoners.

It is an established fact that the conditions in Zimbabwe’s prisons are deplorable. But, why government has refrained from restoring sanity in the running of prisons still boggles the mind. In fact, disclosures by the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Human Rights, which visited two of the country’s biggest correctional centres — Chikurubi Maximum Security and Harare Central prisons — on Wednesday this week, must prompt government to take corrective measures.

What is even unfortunate is the fact that when food riots sparked at Chikurubi recently, Zanu PF tried to get a scapegoat and claimed there was a political hand instead of dealing with the issues at hand.

Inmates are starving and dying due to squalid conditions and food shortages in prisons. They are being punished instead of rehabilitating them so that in future they can be reintegrated back into society. It is regrettable that Zanu PF does not always see things in the same way as the ordinary people. Yet every challenge that’s obtaining in the country is as a result of the governing party Zanu PF’s misrule.

MPs equated the conditions at the facilities to terrorist groups Boko Haram and Isis torture bases. Introducing a motion on prison conditions Zengeza East MDC-T MP Alexio Musundire pointed out that prisoners were being fed with soup from boiled pumpkins and sometimes sadza (staple) without relish.

Prison garb is tattered, cells are filthy and are breeding ground for skin diseases and tuberculosis, which contravenes the provisions of the Constitution and United Nations human rights principles. Prison should be a correctional facility and not necessarily meant to punish the offenders as it were hence inmates must be treated with respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings.

The responsibility of prisons for the custody of prisoners and for the protection of society against crime must be discharged in keeping with government’s other social objectives and its fundamental responsibilities for promoting the well-being and development of all members of society.

Some of the psychiatric patients at Chikurubi Maximum prison.
Some of the psychiatric patients at Chikurubi Maximum prison.

The unfortunate prison situation needs urgent intervention. Prisoners should feel that they are being rehabilitated before being allowed to return and be integrated into society.

But one wonders whether there would be rehabilitation if the inmates are inhumanely treated.

The Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services’ claim that the department was grappling with shortages of food and other resources should not be an excuse to ill-treat prisoners at whatever cost. The violence that rocked Chikurubi recently should be a reminder that worse things can happen if government ignores the plight of prisoners. Prison congestion is unacceptable hence it should be addressed forthwith. Everyone is a potential prisoner, regardless of one’s standing in society. Is it not true that the overcrowding in the country’s prisons is a violation of inmates’ rights?

The challenges faced by Zimbabwe’s prisons are an indication of failure on the part of President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF to provide solutions to society’s ills. With that kind of treatment, it won’t be surprising that our prisons are fast turning out to be breeding grounds for hardcore criminals.

Indeed, prison inmates deserve respect.

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