THE Zimbabwe Prison Services has admitted it was struggling with a debilitating shortage of basic commodities with officials saying the 18,000 inmates currently in the country's 72 jails were effectively surviving on prayer.
Aggrey Huggins Machingauta, the deputy commissioner of prisons on Wednesday told the Parliamentary thematic committee on human rights that the ZPS was failing to provide clean water and proper sanitation to the country's overcrowded jails raising the spectre of a major disease outbreak.
Machingauta drew global attention on Zimbabwe late last year after telling legislators that 100 prison inmates had died from hunger and disease as the cash-strapped government struggled to feed and meet their health-care needs.
The claim was later pegged back by Justice Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa who said the official's remarks had been misinterpreted.
In 2009, President Robert Mugabe granted clemency to 1,500 inmates including lifers because prison authorities can't feed them.
The veteran leader ordered the release of another 2000 inmates countrywide early this year in a bid to ease overcrowding and pressure on the government's parlous finances.
But Machingauta was back at Parliament Wednesday, revealing that they were struggling to feed the remaining inmates, and could not even provide them with clean water.
He said Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare has struggled with a water supply crisis for over a decade.
The facility has a debt of $2 million which forced the Zimbabwe National Water Authority (Zinwa) to cut off the country's biggest cantonment facility.
"Inmates are entitled to clean water and proper sanitation, unfortunately the prevailing situation is pathetic. It is by the grace of God that to date we have not encountered any serious outbreaks of water borne diseases," Machingauta told the committee.
Machingauta appealed to parliament to intervene and knock sense into Zinwa to consider the plight of inmates when making decisions on water cuts.
He said ZPS was in violation of the second schedule to section 50 (a) of the Prison (general) Regulation which sets out the inmate's diet due to lack of funding from government.
"However, this is not possible given the lack of funding which results in the late delivery and at times non-availing of farming inputs and equipment," Machingauta said.
ZPS has 23 farms around the country meant to produce food for prisoners but without inputs and funding, the department cannot do any meaningful farming.
Machingauta said that prisoners have also been unable to access descent uniforms, protective clothing, four blankets and a sleeping mat as required by law adding that health drug levels are dangerously low.
The crisis is further compounded by the fact that ZPS cannot acquire equipment to carry out medical checks and tests on inmates without having to rely on referral hospitals which they owe $545 397, 93 in unpaid bills.
"Our prison population reflects that we are already overcrowded meaning inmates' rights to proper shelter is already compromised.
"The consequences of overcrowding vary from the spread of communicable diseases such as TB, budgetary constraints on government and security threats," said Machingauta.
The plight of special classes of offenders such as women in general, women with children, pregnant women, mentally retarded offenders as well as juveniles according to Machingauta has also been compromised by the shortage of funds.
According to Machingauta Article 10 (3) of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, for example, requires that juvenile offenders should be segregated from adults and be accorded treatment appropriate to their ages but in the country, they are being detained together with their mothers.
"Women inmates obviously have their own prisons but there is still a challenge in the provision of pre-natal and post natal care and the upkeep of children who are in prison with their mothers," he told the committee chaired by Zanu PF lawmaker Mike Nyambuya.