President Mnangagwa recently promoted Deputy Commissioner-General Moses Chihobvu (MC) to Commissioner-General of the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services with effect from November 1, 2020. The Herald Deputy News Editor Kudakwashe Mugari (KM) had a conversation with him about his vision as he takes up the new task.
KM: How do you feel about being appointed the new head of Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS)?
MC: I am so excited and thankful to His Excellency the President and Commander-In-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces for appointing me and bestowing on me the trust to take over the reins of leading the ZPCS. I am really prepared to work with all people who wish to see the success of ZPCS. As ZPCS we have an open-door policy and I hope to work with all stakeholders with some agility and professionalism that was nurtured by my predecessor Rtd Major General Zimondi.
KM: What is your vision as the new Prisons boss?
MC: As ZPCS our vision is "To become the leading correctional service provider in the region and beyond". Yes, the torch has been handed over to me. However, the objectives remain the same and I will carry on from where my predecessor left in pursuing offender rehabilitation with vigour thus equipping inmates with various life survival skills, which will transform them into law-abiding citizens when they are released from prison. The vision will be also incomplete without mentioning the need to increase production in our prison farms and workshops which will be achieved through rehabilitation. All this cannot be successfully achieved by our own efforts but as a combined effort together with all stakeholders.
KM: There has been the issue of overcrowding in prisons. How are you going to deal with the issue of balancing the prison population with the facilities available?
MC: The prison population has continued to balloon over time with inmates now exceeding 20 000 in our country's correctional facilities. Overpopulation in our prisons has put a strain on budgetary provisions to ensure that inmates are adequately catered for in areas such as food, accommodation, shelter and health needs including rehabilitation facilities. Stakeholders have been of great assistance in meeting some of the needs which are however not always enough taking cognisant of the ever-increasing number of inmates. ZPCS has, however, not been sitting on its laurels as the situation degenerates. A number of initiatives have been done to try and mitigate the circumstances. For instance;
The Open Prison System, where an open prison for women which is on the cards is set to decongest female prison facilities where female offenders live in prisons not suitable for them.
The submissions made for the release of some offenders through an amnesty is envisaged to decongest some facilities. Those pardoned on Presidential Amnesty are reminded of the need to utilise skills acquired and embrace rehabilitation efforts that they experienced and never to set foot in prison once again unless they are coming to visit inmates.
Above all rehabilitation programmes being conducted in all prisons countrywide are meant to ensure that inmates shun their elements of crime and live as law abiding citizens hence diminishing the recidivism rate.
Continuous engagements will also be pursued with the Judiciary Service Commission to ensure that offenders with offences of less gravity will be commuted to non-custodial sentences.
In the long run, we intend to establish new prisons, a move which we shall pursue from my predecessor's vision which will see all prisons in towns and cities being relocated to our prison farms.
We continue to urge members of the society to desist from committing crime as this is detrimental not only to personal, and societal lives but to the good of our nationhood as resources are strained to the limit trying to cater for the welfare of those incarcerated.
KM: There are reports of food shortages in prisons and yet you have farms all over the country and free labour. Why is such a situation prevailing?
MC: ZPCS has the capacity to sustain itself and contribute immensely to the national granary if properly funded. Ideally, ZPCS with all the labour, land and farming expertise, we should be seen producing enough food for inmates all year round plus surplus for sale, but the production has been extremely low over the years due to financial constraints, low rainfall due to climate change and lack of resources especially inputs and mechanised equipment.
KM: There has been the spread of communicable diseases in prisons and now Covid-19 is said to have reached prison facilities. How are you going to work with the Government in fighting this?
MC: By their nature, prison or correctional facilities are confined spaces and communicable diseases thrive in such environments. With the way these diseases spread, for example, the coronavirus, prison establishments present challenges in managing such outbreaks.
It is extremely important that we try by all means necessary to ensure that these diseases do not find their way into our prisons. We have already taken a number of steps to do so because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Prison visits have been suspended until such a time that it would be safe to re-introduce them. This measure is not punitive, but is meant to protect the inmates. Our health directorate is working closely with the Ministry of Health authorities and other stakeholders in implementing a number of initiatives that include provision of information to inmates and officers about the pandemic, maintaining hygiene among our prison population, distributing protective equipment as well as conducting tests. We would like to appreciate the involvement of various other stakeholders who have come on board to assist in different ways. It is our belief that together we can lock this pandemic outside the prison walls.
KM: Prisons used to do all kinds of human skills. How are you going to help prisoners acquire entrepreneurship skills?
MC: The ZPCS has scaled up offender rehabilitation by innovatively introducing various rehabilitation programmes and activities whose major four components are:
- Vocational skills training and academic education
- Moral rehabilitation
- Social rehabilitation (Counselling and psychotherapy)
- Sports and recreation
These programmes also assist in terms of manpower development at the national scale in that a lot of inmates upon completion of their various training trades are issued with certificates and journeyman classes making it possible for them to productively venture into and contribute towards the country's different economic trades.
We have various prison workshops and Harare Central Prison Vocational Training Centre where inmates are engaged in various skills training programmes and plans are underway to establish a similar centre at Khami Prison workshop. The use of inmates in production is also in line with the Mandela Rules, as prison administrators are required to make sure that the period of incarceration is used to ensure that, as far as possible, the re-integration of offenders into society upon release can lead a law- abiding and self-supporting life. In this regard, the teaching of vocational and other life skills becomes paramount.
KM: There have been reports of gays and lesbians in prisons, this is against the Constitution of this country and also against our culture. How are you dealing with reports of this nature in prisons?
MC: The issue of gays and lesbians has always remained a secret between the involved parties as there is always consensus among the concerned parties just like what happens in the society. However, as ZPCS being governed by the Constitution of Zimbabwe and if a case of that nature is reported to have taken place in our prisons, a police report is made and the culprits will be brought before the judiciary courts. It is therefore difficult to thwart the evil deeds if they are not being brought to the attention of correctional officers.
I would also want to take this opportunity and give you a chance to visit a prison of your choice and inquire from the primary actors and correctional officers.