Inmates wallow in jail without trial

Latest data from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStats) show that out of 21 619 prisoners in the country, 5 403 prisoners are not sentenced.

NEARLY a quarter of the country’s prison population is awaiting trial, with revelations that some have been in remand for more than three years.

Latest data from the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZimStats) show that out of 21 619 prisoners in the country, 5 403 prisoners are not sentenced.

“Out of the 21 619 persons who were in prison, 16 216 (75%) were sentenced and 5 403 (25%) were unsentenced. The proportion of unsentenced male and female prisoners was 24,6% and 39,2% respectively,” ZimStats acting director Matiwonesa Phiri said.

Sentenced prisoners increased from 15 329 in the second quarter to 16 216 in the third quarter, while unsentenced prisoners saw a rise from 5 306 to 5 403.

“The highest proportion of new prisoners was in the 20 to 24 years followed by those of age 25 to 29 years,” Phiri said.

“The number of new prisoners from Zimbabwe increased from 11 492 in the second quarter of 2023 to 12 111 in the third quarter.

“Non-Zimbabwean new prisoners also increased from 438 in the second quarter to 530 during the third quarter of 2023.”

Investigations by NewsDay showed that some judicial officers are demanding bribes from desperate prisoners who have been languishing in prison without trial for them to be given a trial date.

“My lawyer told me that they (judicial officers) want money to set my trial date. The money was paid and my trial moved so quickly,” said a recently acquitted suspect.

Speaking during the launch of the Criminal Justice System National Council early this year, Chief Justice Luke Malaba said some cases were taking too long to be finalised.

United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures and the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-Custodial Measures for Women Offenders encourage criminal justice systems to provide a wide range of non-custodial measures to avoid unnecessary pre-trial detention.

Human rights lawyer Charism Zhakata said inmates deserved to enjoy their rights despite the offences they might have committed.

“Pre-trial detention is only legitimate where there is a reasonable suspicion of the person having committed the offence, and where detention is necessary and proportionate to prevent them from absconding, committing another offence, or interfering with the course of justice during pending procedures,” Zhakata said.

Psychologist Pardon Taodzera urged the judicial system to expedite trials, citing their detrimental mental health impact on prisoners.

“The psychological toll of living in uncertainty, coupled with the potential loss of income and employment opportunities, can be devastating,” he said.

“In some cases, it may even constitute a violation of the right to a fair and speedy trial, a fundamental principle of any just legal system.

“The human cost of pre-trial detention is undeniable. We must work towards a justice system that upholds the rights of all individuals, regardless of their sentence status.”

According to the Justice ministry, there are 46 prisons in Zimbabwe. Two are exclusively for female inmates, 17 for men only, and the rest are mixed gender.

In 2022, the World Prison Brief, published by the University of London’s Institute for Crime & Justice Policy Research, ranked Zimbabwe’s prisons as the 75th most overcrowded globally on a list of 203 countries. The database lists its occupancy rate at 130%.

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