Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO
OVERCROWDING is probably the single most pressing concern facing our correctional facilities.
Therefore, the release of 300 inmates from the various Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS) facilities across the country is a commendable move.
The country’s correctional facilities are overwhelmed.
Overcrowding comes at a huge cost to the country and the inmates’ health and ultimately the country as a whole.
In 2011, HIV and tuberculosis prevalence rates stood at 27.4 percent in our correctional facilities.
However, Government and its partners have invested a lot in the health of inmates.
The ZCS 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.
New correctional facilities have been constructed in Mbala, Kalabo, Mwembeshi, Monze and Luwingu as part of the various measures to curb congestion.
Although the rising population in correctional facilities in Zambia is of great concern, it is not just a Zambian problem, but an international phenomenon.
Apart from the high disease burden associated with overcrowding, it is also a physical strain on the correctional officers.
According to a study done in 2016, 13,000 prison officers manned 39,000 inmates in Tanzania while in Namibia, 3,500 inmates were guarded by 2,500 officers.
In Zambia, 2,500 officers looked after 18,000 inmates.
However, the Zambian government, on its part, has been beefing up manpower, including the ongoing recruitment of prison officers.
This figure falls short of the UN recommendation of one officer taking care of four inmates in remand facilities and one for every two inmates in condemned facilities.
Therefore, the gesture by President Edgar Lungu to release 300 inmates as part of the 54th Independence commemorations is commendable.
The President has played his part in releasing the inmates – the rest remains society’s responsibility.
The President’s prerogative of mercy will help former inmates to reform because they should realise that while in custody, people took stock of their good behaviour.
Society has a heart for them and is ready to receive them back.
After all, all inmates released by the President’s amnesty should give themselves a pat on the back because they deserve to be released.
Apart from good behaviour, the other criteria for an inmate to be pardoned under Presidential amnesty include serving a good portion of their sentence and remaining with few months to be released.
Industrious inmates who have acquired sufficient skills to be able to support themselves upon being released are also considered.
Given the above criteria, there is no reason for either the inmates or the community to be bitter.
The onus is therefore on the two parties to trust one another and move on.
Former inmates should be useful in society by being law-abiding citizens who can be trusted. Otherwise, if they go back to their old ways, citizens may blame the President and correctional service command for releasing them.
Society, too, should embrace the former inmates back into society and help them reform.
Failure by some communities, families, and friends to accept former inmates back perpetuates stigma.
This has seen most of them committing offences and getting arrested again.
In fact, the Church holds the key to the re-integration of former inmates by applying biblical principles of love, care and forgiveness.
While churches reach out to correctional facilities for counselling and prayers, they do not care for former inmates.
Prisoner Re-Integration and Empowerment Organisation is disappointed with the behaviour of most churches in Zambia which exposes former inmates to vulnerability.
Organisation executive director Derrick Malumo says most churches are interested in the testimonies of former inmates but fail to fulfil their pledges.
Mr Malumo says some churches want evidence of former inmates being destitute but after testifying, they are abandoned.
Mr Malumo’s organisation links former inmates to individuals and organisations willing to help re-integrate them by helping them with shelter, food or employment.
He says the behaviour of some churches which want to benefit from former inmates’ testimonies is regrettable.
The author is editorials editor at the Zambia Daily Mail.
Analysis: BENEDICT TEMBO