You are currently viewing Curbing problem of overcrowding in Zambian prisons

Curbing problem of overcrowding in Zambian prisons

CONGESTION in prisons is not a new phenomenon. It dates way back in the post-colonial era.
Overcrowding is perhaps the single most pressing concern facing Zambian prisons.

Zambia is among other African nations such as Cameroon, Burundi, Kenya, and Rwanda comprise the majority of the world’s most overcrowded prisons.
Like many of the challenges facing Zambian prisons today, overcrowding has its roots in the country’s colonial past because the current prison facilities are those left by the colonial masters.
Zambian prisons have been at or above capacity nearly since their inception.
Given the many challenges facing postcolonial countries Zambia inclusive, it is little wonder that prisons have been left off the endless development to-do lists.
Prison is obviously not a place where anyone would wish to find themselves one day, especially a Zambian prison, as Human Rights Commission Chairperson Mudford Mwandenga puts it.
With conditions such as overcrowding, torture and inadequate feeding, the Human Rights Commission says prisoners are deprived of their rights.
Mr Mwandenga says “Persons in detention do not cease to be human beings. A prison sentence deprives a prisoner of their right to liberty. It should not deprive them of other rights.”
He adds, “A basic principle is that all persons deprived of their liberty shall be treated with respect for the inherent dignity of the person. But this is not the case in Zambian prisons.”
Recently, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) conducted a routine inspection of the detention facilities in Lusaka and Kabwe.
Several findings emerged, among them overcrowding, torture and lack of food.
The commission says Zambian prisons do not comply with internationally accepted human rights standards, thus violating the rights of inmates, both convicted and awaiting trial.
Currently, the inmate population in Zambia stands at 21,370 against the holding capacity of 8,250 representing a countrywide overcrowding of about 159 percent.
“Inspections conducted by the Commission in March 2017 in Kabwe found that Kabwe Maximum Correctional Facility with an official capacity of 400 had 2,050 inmates representing over 500 percent congestion. In December 2016, the commission found that Lusaka Central Correctional Facility whose maximum holding capacity is 400 had 1,320 inmates which represented congestion of over 300 percent.
The situation was not any different at Kamwala Remand Correctional Facility which had a total number of 510 inmates against an official capacity of 74 inmates indicating over 300 percent congestion,” Mr Mwandenga says.
According to the Human Rights Commission, the lack of compliance with internationally accepted standards is tantamount to giving double punishment to inmates, especially those still awaiting trial.
It is notable that the country’s population has increased exponentially compared to the time when most the prison facilities where opened during the colonial era or the post-colonial era.
A tale from an ex-convict Goerge Chikwela, 47 of Lusaka’s Mtendere township reinforces the concerns from the Human Rights Commission.
Mr Chikwela knows prison life like the palm of his hand. This is so because of the time he was incarcerated.
He gives scanty details about what led to his incarceration. “I was involved in a robbery and after several trials, I was sentenced to jail. I just do not want to talk about what happened because I am now a father and a changed person,” Mr Chikwela says.
He spent close to five years in various prison facilities following the nature of the case he was facing. He describes prison life as tough.
Memories of his arrest are still fresh in his mind. He was arrested at the age of 35 and was released from prison when he was 40.
His wife and family regarded his life of crimes as a profession because they (family) did not know what kind of business deals he was involved in.
“The aftermath of prison life still haunts me. I would never wish anyone to experience it. Prisons in Zambia are not fit for human habitation. I say so because the environment is not conducive. The sleeping, feeding and just the general treatment is like the person is already condemned to death, no freedom at all,” Mr Chikwela says.
He says, “The only good side of prison is that it gives some people a chance to reform forever, but others do not reform, they get worse because they are subjected to this inhuman treatment,” Mr Chikwela says.
Horror stories about his prison life are visible from his facial expression and all he says is, “Prison life is tough, I cannot imagine being there for a life sentence.”
Asked to describe prison life, Mr Chikwela says life in jail can be described best by the way prisoners live.
He says prisoners suffer malnutrition, overcrowding, grossly inadequate medical care, and the risk of rape or torture.
He added, “Some prisoners are detained for years in such conditions even before they are brought to trial.”
But what has happened to Hebrews 13 verse 3, “Remember those in prison as if you were there with them.”
From Mr Chikwela’s experience, one can tell that truly, it is hard to be in prison, much worse to be remembered. It is a kind of life or experience one finds in the highly congested prisons in Zambia.
But in view of the many international, regional and national minimum human rights standards relating to the treatment of prisoners, Government under the Zambia Correctional Service has embarked on a national wide programme to upgrade of the correctional facilities countrywide.
Zambia Correctional Service head of public relations Margaret Nawa says the Zambia Correctional Service is on track to meet needs of offenders following the continued upgrade and rehabilitation of correctional facilities countrywide in a bid to observe humane conditions for the inmates.
“We have constructed new facilities in Mbala, Kalabo, Mwembeshi, Monze and Luwingu. We are aware of the population in the prisons countrywide and that is why the service has embarked on the various measures to ensure that we decongest the prisons,” Ms Nawa says.
Although the rising prison population in Zambia is of great concern, it is certainly not just a Zambian problem, but an international phenomenon.
Overcrowding of prisons negates the rehabilitation of offenders, undermines human dignity in correctional facilities and renders the safety and security of offenders and the community vulnerable. The problem of overcrowding facilitates the easy spread of communicable diseases among inmates. Imprisonment as a sanction remains a reality.
Providing alternatives to imprisonment, for example, community based-sanctions, does however ensure that a significant number of offenders can be dealt with in a more balanced manner.
Alternative sanctions to incarceration can be more successful, less costly to the state, have fewer negative implications and will lighten the load for the criminal justice system, hence reducing overcrowding.