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Prisons force inmates to buy uniforms

Local News
The cash-strapped government’s desperate measures have spawned a thriving market, with vendors cashing in on the sale of prison garb.

PRISONERS on remand have been ordered to acquire their own uniforms, while their relatives have been given the green light to bring the inmates blankets during the harsh winter months, underlining government’s dire financial straits.

Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) officials, who spoke to NewsDay on condition of anonymity, said lack of funding resulted in the organisation failing to afford basic resources and services for inmates.

The cash-strapped government’s desperate measures have spawned a thriving market, with vendors cashing in on the sale of prison garb.

However, ZPCS national spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Meya Khanyezi yesterday dismissed the allegations.

“In terms of section 72(1) of the Prison and Correctional Service Act of 2023, unconvicted prisoners are permitted to maintain themselves and to arrange for the purchase or receive from private sources at proper hours, such food, clothing, bedding, television or other necessities as the Commissioner-General may from time-to-time determine,” she said.

“If an unconvicted inmate does not provide himself or herself with food, clothing and bedding, they receive normal prison food, clothing and bedding.”

However, investigations by NewsDay uncovered a thriving market for prison uniforms in Mbare, where vendors are selling the garb to desperate prisoners and their families for prices ranging from US$10 to US$20.

Other vendors loiter around Harare Remand Prison, advertising their wares to inmates and relatives alike.

Inmates, who cannot afford the price of the prison garb, are forced to wear tattered and worn-out clothing, a stark contrast to the standardised khaki shorts and shirts once provided by the prison authorities, the sources said.

Some wear hand-me-downs from fellow inmates or relatives, while others are left to suffer in threadbare clothes, their dignity stripped along with their freedom.

“The once-uniformed prison population is now a sea of tattered shirts and torn pants,” the source said.

“This is a clear testimony to government’s abdication of its responsibility to provide basic necessities to those in its care.

“Shortage of prison uniforms is most prevalent among male inmates. We have had incidents where inmates walk around with their privates exposed from tattered clothing.”

The shortage of prison uniforms comes as the quality of food in the prisons has plummeted, with some prison officers reportedly profiteering from the sale of basic necessities like cooked meals to desperate prisoners.

According to information obtained by NewsDay, the Harare Remand Prison tuckshop has become the hub for cooked matemba and madora, which have become hot commodities among some prisoners, who cannot stomach poorly cooked food from the prison cafeteria.

The demand for snacks is so high that prisoners are willing to pay exorbitant prices of between US$1 or US$2 just to get a taste of something edible.

The sources said: “The quality of prison meals has drastically deteriorated, with inmates being served meagre rations that barely qualify as nutritious.”

They said vegetables are boiled without cooking oil and beans, a staple in the prison diet, was often half-cooked and served cold, making it difficult to digest.

“The meals are a far cry from the basic standards of human dignity, leaving prisoners malnourished and vulnerable to disease, a constant reminder of government’s neglect and disregard for human life,” the sources said.

Government's financial woes have resulted in several crises within the country's security forces and correctional facilities.

The army, police and prison services are struggling to access basic resources and services, compromising the quality of service delivery.

Uniform, a fundamental necessity for military and law enforcement personnel, is in short supply across all forces.

Last year, the Zimbabwe Republic Police had to indefinitely postpone a passout for junior officers owing to a shortage of uniforms.

Legislators have, on several occasions, pleaded with government to avail funds to improve service delivery within the security sector.

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