Editor's Comment

Whipping outdated way of decongesting prisons

INMATES at Mukobeko Maximum Prison demonstrate their style of sleeping to Minister of Home Affairs Davies Mwila when he recently visited the oversubscribed penitentiary. PICTURE: CHAMBO NGUNI

CONGESTION in prisons continues to be one of the major problems the country is faced with today. A visit to any correctional facility across the country will reveal a depressing image of how offenders jostle for space just to rest their bodies.
There is hardly enough space for prisoners to turn when sleeping.
According to Ministry of Home Affairs Permanent Secretary Chileshe Mulenga, there are currently about 23,000 inmates in correctional facilities countrywide against a holding capacity of 8,000.
This means the prisons are overcrowded by about 200 percent.
Needless to say, 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.
It is also a known fact that overcrowding facilitates the easy spread of communicable diseases among inmates.
Drawn from this concern, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is proposing the conversion of prison sentences for some offences into corporal punishment.
Senga Hill Member of Parliament Kapembwa Simbao said Ministry of Home Affairs should consider formulating a bill which will enable it to turn some sentences into strokes instead of locking up the offender.
“Why isn’t it possible for the PS [Dr Mulenga] to come up with a bill that, maybe, many of these offenses can be handled or translated into lashes to reduce congestion in correctional facilities? Are you scared of offloading these people on the street?
“We need to think out of the box and my suggestion is converting the years one is sentenced into lashes. We cannot have 22,000 people put in a facility which can only accommodate 8,000 people,” he said.
While we share the concern of PAC on the unhealthy situation in our prisons due to congestion, we are of the view that there are more civilised and effective ways of punishing people instead of whipping them.
We believe such kind of corporal punishment is better left to the ancient times.
Yes, we believe some petty offences such as theft, abrogating traffic rules, insulting, trespassing, and possession of negligible amounts of marijuana and for first offenders can be subjected to community service as opposed to imprisonment.
We have heard of people jailed for stealing a chicken, while others for shoplifting. Certainly some of these offenders can be made to do community work for a period of time without putting them behind bars.
Providing alternatives to imprisonment, for example, community-based sanctions, does ensure that offenders are punished without necessarily congesting prisons.
If well implemented, alternative sanctions to incarceration can be more successful with less costs to the state.
For instance, community service lessens Government’s burden of keeping and feeding more prisoners.
It also lightens the load for the criminal justice system.
It should, however, be noted that community service sanctions alone cannot completely decongest our prisons. It is only a supplementary measure.
It is therefore commendable that Government is already working on decongesting prisons by building more such infrastructure across the country.
And as rightly noted by the Home Affairs PS, pardons and amnesties are also another way of reducing congestion.
As an immediate measure, prison authorities also transfer offenders from more congested correctional facilities to less crowded ones.
Ensuring efficiency in the justice system will also reduce on the number of inmates waiting for their cases to be disposed of.
It is also important to inculcate a culture of respecting laws among citizens, especially the younger generations.
While it is agreeable that congestion in prisons is as a result of the growing population, it is also as a result of the growing number of deviant citizens.
It is, therefore, important to nurture children into law-abiding citizens to reduce on the number of those who come into conflict with the law.

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