Editor's Comment

Community service key to prison congestion

Mukobeko Maximum Correctional Centre.

THE need to reform the law on custodial sentencing to match the changing times has once again come to the fore.This is in view of some of the sentencing we have seen from our courts where a convict is sent for custodial sentence for a period as short as two months.
We have in mind the case of former First Lady Christine Kaseba’s maids, who were jailed for two months for stealing clothes.
On the other hand, Prisca Namonje, 31, a housewife of Ndola’s Chifubu township, was in 2015 sentenced to 20 days community service for clobbering her husband and injuring his private parts following his persistent complaints over delays to prepare him meals.
In default, she would have faced a five-month jail sentence.
We may not know some of the legal provisions for sentencing in a number of cases, but there are instances when it is obvious that an alternative sentence of community service can be applied as punishment.
We believe one of the reasons for introducing community service in 2000 was to reduce congestion in our prisons.
The prisons, most of which were built during the pre-independence days, have become small to hold prisoners in view of the growing population.
Reports given by prison officers during the opening of High Court sessions can testify to the congestion in the prisons.
It is common to find that a prison which was originally built to hold 200 prisoners now has over 1,000 inmates.
And this congestion is accompanied by health-related problems. With such congestion, our prisons form a healthy breeding ground for both air-borne and water-borne diseases such as tuberculosis, dysentery and cholera.
The diseases have to be combated at a great cost to Government.
Last year, prisoners at Solwezi Central Correctional Facility petitioned the Justice and Legal sector reform commission over congestion in prisons, with some of them complaining that the structures at the prisons could no longer accommodate the growing number of inmates.
Because of the limited facilities, the prison, which had 381 inmates at the time, was only meant to hold half that number.
While the numbers of prisoners have grown, the number of beds has remained the same and some of the inmates have to sleep on the floor.
Our prisons are meant to be places for rehabilitating offenders so that when they are released, they are reformed into useful members of the community.
But the situation in the prisons is bound to give out adverse results.
Some of the congestion in our prisons could be attributed to the custodial sentences handed down to convicts as a way of punishing them when they are found guilty.
However, it should not surprise us when former prisoners come out harder than they went into prison. The harsh conditions prevailing in the dungeons are bound to harden them, bringing to nought any efforts aimed at reforming them.
Community service, therefore, becomes an alternative measure to deter would-be offenders but at the same time, it would contribute to decongesting prisons.
While the local councils are making efforts to clean out surroundings, they can only do so much. Part of the work can be done by offenders serving community service as part of the efforts to keep our surroundings clean.
We, therefore, urge the courts to consider this alternative for the health of those already in prison and the cleanness of our surroundings.

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