‘IT IS said that no-one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails. A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones,” says Nelson Mandela, the first non-white head of State in South African history.
Mandela, who served as President from 1994 to 1999, spent 27 years in prison at Robben Island, where he struggled to fight for global human rights, equality, democracy and a culture of peace.
Because of Mandela’s noble cause, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the revised United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners and renamed them the Nelson Mandela Rules in December 2015.
The Nelson Mandela Rules are said to represent an updated blueprint for prison management in the 21st century, which upholds and promotes prisoners’ dignity. Hence, this has valueled to the commemoration of the Nelson Mandela International Day, which was amicably agreed to be set on July 18.
The Nelson Mandela International Day is one such day when the world draws attention to the over 10.3 million almost forgotten people spending their time in prisons and also the prison staff who are entrusted to look after the prisoners.
Mandela said: “Secure prisons are essential to making our justice system an effective weapon against crime. When prisoners – convicted or awaiting trial – are entrusted to your care, they must know and the public must know that they will remain there until they are legally discharged…
“The full contribution which our prisons can make towards a permanent reduction in the country’s crime-rate lies also in the way in which they treat prisoners. We cannot emphasise enough the importance of both professionalism and respect for human rights.”
This therefore brings us back to our country, Zambia. How are we making each day a Mandela Day for people in prisons?
First and foremost, in trying to achieve Mandela’s advice, the Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS) is gradually transforming from offering punitive measures to correctional ones, hence the change of name from Zambia Prisons Service.
According to ZCS commissioner general Percy Chato, the service aims at ensuring prisoners’ training and welfare, as well as increase stakeholders’ support to engagements to provide comprehensive and sustainable prisons and justice sector reforms. This is being done in accordance with the Nelson Mandela Rules.
As the transformation is progressing, Mr Chato says the service also intends to enhance the quality and increase the frequency of media reporting on prisons and related issues.
In line with the Nelson Mandela Rules, ZCS has pledged to ensure that every inmate is kept in secure, humane and safe custody, and produced in court when required, until lawfully discharged or removed from a correctional centre.
The service shall also facilitate the social rehabilitation of inmates through specific treatment programmes, and also facilitate the community re-entry and support re-integration of inmates into their communities.
Since ZCS is now a correctional centre, the 2016 ZCS bill states that it shall ensure that inmates do work that is reasonably necessary for the effective management of correctional centres.
ZCS is not the only institution helping to make every day a Mandela Day. Other stakeholders such as the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Human Rights Commission (HRC) and the Zambia Law Development Commission are working tirelessly to achieve Zambia’s commitment towards humane custody of prisoners.
With the aim to attain the Nelson Mandela Rules, UNODC, which aims to reduce the scope of imprisonment, strengthen prison management, improve prison conditions and facilitate the social integration of prisoners upon release, has committed US$175,000 for supporting rehabilitation programmes in correctional centres as well as the social re-integration of prisoners upon release.
This, I must state, is a commendable job because prisoners are humans just like you and me. Like the adage goes; “we are all but prisoners in the waiting”.
Therefore, as we commemorate Nelson Mandela International Day today, it is the duty of each citizen to ensure that we promote humane conditions of imprisonment, raise awareness about prisoners being a continuous part of society, and value the work of prison staff as an important social service.
Let us make every day a Nelson Mandela Day!
The author is a Zambia Daily Mail sub editor.