2 February 2013

Tanzania: Retired Prison Commissioners and the New Constitution!


LAST week in my column, I made a follow up on this ongoing historic phase of our country in crafting our new constitution. Yes, it is a privilege to our present generation, charting a visionary Constitution that will take over after fifty years of imposed constitution.

This time the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) is receiving very important views from different professional groups. We have heard views from Permanent Secretaries led by the Chief Secretary Ambassador Ombeni Sefue, former and the current Prime Ministers, the Press Corps and several others.

Ironically all these are hitting on their areas of professionalism which is a good idea. Of course this does not limit them from coming up with proposals as individuals but it makes sense if they jointly put up their views. I was wondering if there was a special communication from the CRC inviting them to come forward for such an exercise. How about the vulnerable and unrepresented like prisoners? And their captors too, prisons officials known to have always sat on insurmountable administrative problems.

Overcrowding of prisons is very much known and the President himself has in several times requested for a solution to evade what he termed as "mzungu wa nne syndrome" on the way prisoners are congested in their prison cells. Overcrowding has painted a bad picture to our country where remands died twice at Ilemela in Mwanza 1967 and Mbarali in Mbeya respectively.

Apparently we have brains from retired Commissioners of Prisons who are still here and could give their views on how to address this problem because in the normal way, it is unattainable. They include Mr Ganja Gabriel Geneya, Simon Mwanguku, Jumanne Mangara, Onel Malisa, Nicas Banzi and lately Augustino Nanyaro.

These professionals are watching with awe the state of overcrowding of our prisons by now hitting over 200%. I normally like to quote the famous prisoner, former South African President Nelson Mandela who said, "no one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should be judged not by how it treats highest citizens, but its lowest."

On my own initiatives I met some of these Commissioners to see if they have any ideas to advise the CRC through the press that would help to ease this problem that negates the very concept of rehabilitation and above all, constitutes a flagrant violation of human rights. These retired brains contend that the criminal justice system at a global scale is in a crisis and right now every country is reviewing how to unlock its system from the imbroglio of failing to deliver justice timely amidst the rising crime rate.

In our case, they say, the sentencing policy of this country should be reviewed and emphasis be placed on restorative justice together with rehabilitation of both prison's infrastructure and prisoners. Overcrowding is the result of failure of taming recidivism, and sustenance of archaic laws apart from the neglect of the government in investing substantially in prison reforms. Other reasons include socio-economic perspective. For example they cite, why time spent in remand (awaiting trials) should not be counted in the final sentence.

Some of the remand prisoners spend long time in prison causing unnecessary overcrowding. After all, even crime of murder can be bailed; we saw it in the case of Ditopile. Actually the figure for remand prisoners in this country has gone up very fast. In 2001, on 1st April, there were 45, 286 inmates in all Tanzania prisons with a ratio of 60 to 40 % awaiting trials to convicted prisoners with an overcrowding of over 100%.

But now this figure has gone even higher with overcrowding rate of over 200%! Community Service which is replacing what used to be Extra Mural Labour Employment to prisoners should be made mandatory not to leave it to the discretion of the magistrates who are reluctant in using it. Any crime which may attract sentence of less than one year should be placed on Community Service Orders unless there is a good reason which should be stated by the magistrate. This is done in countries like Zimbabwe.

The constitution should be specific on what is life imprisonment; is it physical life or a given period? On the question of death penalty, what do they say? The concept of rehabilitation is very much compromised with the death penalty. The moratorium given has been more than enough, the Constitution should come clean and life sentence should substitute the death penalty.

Last year, Parliamentary delegation that visited Segerea, Ukonga prisons in Dar es Salaam, Maweni Tanga, Isanga Dodoma and Butimba Mwanza was shocked with the squalid conditions the inmates were living in. Even the Prime Minister who visited Kanegele Prison in Shinyanga was reported in the local press to have been shocked as well, not only on prison conditions but also the state of the staff quarters.

In one of the Tanzania Human Rights Report of 2007 by Legal and Human Right Centre (LHRC) among other things, it was reported that there are no administrative or legal mechanism designed to facilitate convicted prisons' transition into society and have very limited access to information or individual outside prisons.

Retired Commissioners are of the opinion that independent Inspectors, should constitutionally be appointed to inspect prisons and report to the Parliament. Countries like Malawi and South Africa have this arrangement in their constitutions while in Britain, they have Her Majesty's Inspectorate Unit and the special Ombudsman for Prisons just to safeguard the Human Rights violations. These are perceived to be salient issues to be included in the Constitution to address prisons overcrowding and recidivism.

In a proposed book written by a Tanzanian seasoned Correctional Officer, The African Dawn On Corrections, there are basic information on the paradigm shift into new Correctional Strategy, globally accepted as a new way of running prisons. Hopefully the new constitution will do the needful.

mgosiwasui 87@gma i l . c o m

+255754342711 Senior Citizen

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