By STEPHENÂ KAGOLI
PRISONS in the country endured a long season of the problem of congestion against the increasing prisoner population. This attracted negative media publicity leading to the perception that prisons were death-traps.
This negative publicity however, could be attributed to the nature and design of the prisons which were initially intended for â€˜political retributionâ€™ by the colonial masters.
But the post independence era has witnessed the drastic increase in crime rate and more court convictions without corresponding expansion of prison space, hence inevitable overcrowding. Overcrowding in prisons had for decades remained a thorn in the flesh, as over population rose in the recent past shot to 200 percent.
However, the Patriotic Front (PF) government has realised that appreciated good governance requires a holistic approach. This is critical to ensuring that all sectors of society participate, and positively contribute to national socio-economic advancement.
Appreciated good governance is measured by among other yardsticks, the social welfare of the citizenry, persons serving sentences of imprisonment (prisoners) inclusive.
Hence, in respect of the prisons, good governance requires the Zambia Prisons Service to facilitate a peaceful stable environment for both domestic and foreign social and economic players to carry out their business activities.
This entails the provision of decent shelter through construction of new state-of-the-art prisons, provision of professional health care services, hygienic sanitary and adequate water reticulation and other basic requisites.
Bright rays of hope towards finding lasting solution to overcrowding in prisons dawned on March 11, 2013 as it marked the official opening of the first ever prison in the post-independence era – theÂ 650 capacity Mwembeshi Maximum Security Prison in Lusaka, making it the second maximum prisons in the country.
The second inscription in the books of history came on August 29, 2014 at the opening of the newly constructed Luwingu Prison, which will increase the holding capacity from the current 8150 to 8270 prisoners.
â€œAs Patriotic Front (PF) government, we are guided by the principle that Zambians do not only deserve better life, but are entitled to a better lifeâ€, Home Affairs Minister, Ngosa Simbyakula, said when he graced the opening of the Luwingu Prison.
The opening of new prisons increases prison space translating into improved inmateâ€™s welfare. This entails humane prison conditions as well as improves the countryâ€™s Human Rights record.
The building of prison facilities in districts serves as a critical incentive for easing the lives of inmates against the traumatising experience of imprisonment. This is because inmates have regular visits from their family members and friends.
Commissioner of Prisons Percy Chato during the opening ceremony said the constructed new Luwingu Prison symbolises Governmentâ€™s commitment to mitigating the problems of congestion and the zeal towards alleviating some of the problems faced by prisoners.
Mr Chato stressed that the new Luwingu Prison was a symbol of a majestic step towards upgrading old and dilapidated prison facilities, addressing the problems associated with insufficient accommodation and the spread of communicable diseases and building capacity to effectively offer rehabilitation programmes.
Furthermore, the new Luwingu Prison symbolises collective resolve towards operating humane, secure, safe and orderly prison facilities as Zambia celebrates her Golden Jubilee.
Mr Chato said Luwingu prison is a living testimony that the Government was committed to providing humane custodial and correctional services. And with the goodwill the Service is receiving from the Government, it is confident of offering humane custodial and correctional services in tandem with the modern global practices of prison management.
The Commissioner of Prisons also pointed out that Government has an ambitious programme of building capacity in the Zambia Prisons Service through the building and renovation of prisons in various districts of the country such as correctional facilities in Kalabo and Monze which are nearing completion.
â€œThis project being commissioned today costed Government a sum of K 4,770,848.47. And I want to state that as the Director of Projects, I am satisfied with the works that these contractors have done hereâ€, Senior Assistant Commissioner of Prisons John Yumbe said.
â€œI wish to reaffirm my humble gratitude to Government for the unprecedented unwavering support rendered to the Prisons Service in the area of prisons infrastructure improvement. The allocation of K 21.9 million in the 2014 budget for this cause is a clear testimony of how committed Government is towards supporting the Prisons Service in alleviating some of its challengesâ€, Mr. Yumbe added.
The Prisons Service has pledged total commitment to a congestion-free prison environment and improvement of general prisons infrastructure.
The writer is Deputy Public Relations Officer
Zambia Prisons Service
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By STEPHENÂ KAGOLI