31 May 2014

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Prison Amnesty Made No Difference

THE prison amnesty granted by President Robert Mugabe in February has not improved the dire situation in the country's overcrowded prisons amid reports that nearly all the penitentiary centres have again exceeded their holding capacities.

Mugabe's amnesty saw some 2,000 prisoners being sent home as the cash-strapped Zanu PF government struggled to feed them.

The intervention followed reports by prison officials that some 100 inmates had died from hunger and disease although the government denied this was the case.

Still, Zimbabwe Prison Service officials have admitted that many among those released have since found their way back to prison.

Appearing before the Parliamentary Thematic Committee on Human Rights last week, Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS) Deputy Commissioner Agrey Machingauta conceded that conditions were far from ideal countrywide.

"I am appealing to all of us that this issue should cease to be an academic debate or some finger pointing and blame shifting issue," he said.

"I implore all of us to come up with constructive ideas so that what we desire to see in our prisons becomes a reality because we are all linked to prison in one way or the other."

Machingauta said Mugabe's amnesty had not served any purpose as many of the freed offenders found their way back to prison.

Rejected by society ... Inmates leave one of the country's prisons following the amnesty

He blamed the problem, in part, on society's refusal to accommodate former convicts.

"This is probably the biggest challenge that the ZPCS has to confront," he said.

"It is thought that after serving their custodial sentence an offender must become a useful and completely rehabilitated person; they must not find their way back into prison.

"Society must be prepared to receive the offender, but reality has shown that most communities are not ready in the majority of the cases to accept criminals back into their midst.

"How many people are comfortable to see a rapist or a murderer back in the society? If a person fails to get enough rehabilitation in prison coupled with the unwillingness of society to receive offenders he will, inevitably, find himself back in prison and the circle begins again." Advertisement

Machingauta said government also needed to change its policy as it did not allow the employment of ex-convicts or anyone with a criminal record.

He said they were currently holding 17,318 inmates in 46 prisons and 23 satellite centres, a situation which was putting their lives in danger with the risk of waterborne diseases such as tuberculosis against a holding capacity of 17,000.

Altogether, the country's prisons are holding 14662 convicts, 2866 un-convicted inmates, 80 juveniles. 380 of those held are females.

The prison service said it requires US$21 million in order to feed inmates but it was only allocated $2.5million by Treasury in the 2014 national budget.

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