4 February 2013

Zimbabwe Prisoners Spend Years in Jail Without Sentencing

The appalling situation in Zimbabwe's prisons has yet again come under the spotlight, with scores of babies languishing in jail with their mothers, while many inmates have been in prison for years awaiting trial.

The head of the prison services, retired major general Paradzai Zimondi, revealed the details during a rare press conference on Friday. He said there are at least 69 infants in prisons.

Zimondi appealed for help over the plight of the infants and expressed concern over delays in bringing prisoners to trial, which he said is causing overcrowding.

Journalists who toured Harare Remand Prison say there are many inmates who have spent many years in jail awaiting trial.

69 year old Jonathan Mutzinze told the Daily News he has been in prison for the past 15 years, following his arrest in 1998 for purchasing a stolen vehicle. He blamed his long incarceration to delays in the judiciary process.

Other prisoners include MDC councillor Tungamirai Madzokere, who is part of the 29 Glen View residents accused of killing a police officer in 2011. He has been in remand prison for almost two years.

There are 150 foreigners from countries such as Pakistan, South Africa and Malawi who have spent several months in detention and live in unspeakable conditions in prison.

Last year a shocking report by the Senate's Human Rights Committee revealed that Khami prison just outside Bulawayo, which houses over 2,000 convicts, was in a shocking state. The maximum security section had no doors and prison officers were using handcuffs to make sure prisoners did not bolt.

Justice and legal affairs deputy minister Obert Gutu said the prison system in the countries' 47 prisons, remains critical but is not as dire as it was a couple of years ago.

"Although our inmates are not getting food as per our statutory instrument, the situation has improved and at least they are getting food everyday now."

The minister said the challenge was to have the prisons run as correctional facilities and not as conventional jails.

He also said the Zimbabwe Prisons Services could help the cash-strapped treasury to run the various farms under its control more profitably.

Gutu told SW Radio Africa that Chikurubi is one of the best commercials farms in Zimbabwe, with more than 850 hectares of prime land.

"If that farm is run professionally, this problem of food in our prisons would be a thing of the past."

Gutu also said the problems in Zimbabwe's prisons are a "microcosm' of the entire national challenges facing the nation. He said Zimbabwe has to first sort out the political and economic policies for standards, across-the-board, to improve in the country.

However he said the new draft constitution, set to be tabled in parliament this week, stipulates that children should not be jailed with their mothers.

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