VIOLET MENGO, Lusaka
LIVING in a confined place, stripped of a number of human rights is the most dreaded thing by any person.
The poor living conditions in prison facilities, characterised by congestion, is one of the most common narratives of ex-prisoners often told with a glum expression.
However, with the transformation of prison facilities to concentrate on correction and rehabilitation of inmates, the picture of prisons in Zambia is expected to change.
Government’s position is that instead of being punished for one’s wrong doing, inmates require rehabilitation so that they can contribute to the development of the country once they are re-integrated into society.
To actualise this, Government has changed the penal system from punitive to correctional, an idea that was muted shortly after independence in 1964.
This was on realisation that the penal system inherited from colonial masters was meant to silence the liberation movement and bolster imperialism.
Research has shown that compared to the punitive model, the rehabilitation system of prisoners is more effective in the reformation process and in combating crime.
Zambia Correctional Service (ZCS) commissioner general Percy Chato explains that as a signatory to a number of international protocols that provide guidelines for modern prison management, Zambia was mandated to change to the correctional system.
Mr Chato said when President Edgar Lungu signed the constitutional amendment Bill into law on January 5, 2016, it signalled the transformation of the prisons from punitive institutions to correctional establishments, hence the name change from Zambia Prisons Service to Zambia Correctional Service.
He explains that as a member of the African Correctional Service Association (ACSA), Zambia is required to introduce prison management systems that respect human rights.
The country is a signatory to the Mandela Rules, formerly known as Minimum Standard Rules for Prison Management.
Following the transformation to correctional services, ZCS officers require training to conform to correctional service standards as opposed to the custodial training that most of them underwent.
And Mr Chato explains that his officers require re-training to be able to help inmates reform while in custody.
According to the commissioner, the revision of the prison legislation is required, a process he said is already under-way.
Modern correctional standards require such things as decent accommodation for inmates, improved care and proper meals.
And Mr Chato notes that most of the correctional facilities in Zambia do not meet the acceptable standards because they were built a long time ago, some in the 1940s, by the British colonialists.
To address the problem, Government is constructing ultra-modern correctional facilities that meet required standards.
“Construction of two correctional facilities in Mwembeshi with holding capacities of 1,800 and 1,500 is under-way under Public Private Partnership (PPP) with Mukuyu Ventures and Saltech Limited,” Mr Chato said.
In the recent past, Government has built new correctional facilities such as Mwembeshi Maximum Facility B, Luwingu, Monze and Kalabo prisons.
And Minister of Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo says there is need for adequate manpower and facilities in correctional services to enable them to operate effectively and transform the lives of inmates.
Mr Kampyongo said his ministry is aware of the shortage of manpower in ZCS, resulting in the high inmate to officer ratio.
The law states that each prison officer is supposed to man four prisoners, but currently there are about 4,000 prison officers against 21,000 inmates.
The Church says the transformation of prisons to correctional homes is a welcome move because it can help make the transformation of law-breakers possible.
Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) executive director Pukuta Mwanza says the concept is good and important.
However, he believes a number of issues such as prison infrastructure, overcrowding and officers’ welfare will have to be addressed to make this policy shift a reality.
Reverend Mwanza said the correctional model is the best as it helps offenders to reform and its successful implementation may reduce stigmatisation of ex-prisoners.
He said to ensure total conversion of offenders, ZCS must engage the Church to offer counselling and spiritual transformation of inmates.
Reverend Mwanza said apart from custodial sentences, there is need for other forms of punishment for offenders such as community service and counselling with the help of the clergy.
A Lusaka taxi driver, Emmanuel Mwale, says the correctional approach could bring about true transformation of former inmates when they are integrated into society.
“Government should be commended for the bold step taken to ensure the correction of inmates,” Mr Mwale said.
Meanwhile, Prisons Care and Counselling Association (PRISCCA) executive director Godfrey Malembeka says the correctional model presents an opportunity for Zambia to modernise prison facilities to meet acceptable standards.
“Until the Prison’s Act is reviewed and renamed, it will not be able to help the service in carrying out its mandate effectively,” said Dr Malembeka, who has been advocating improved prison facilities since his release from prison in 1997.
“What is good is that the declaration is done and the law is changing,” he said. Going forward, Dr Malembeka hopes that Zambia will abolish the death sentence, stating that vengeance does not solve problems.
The Human Rights Commission says the constitutional obligation to transform to the correctional paradigm will help enhance respect for the rights of inmates.
Chief of information, education and training Mweelwa Muleya says the move is in line with the 1955 United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2015.
The General Assembly also resolved that the standard minimum rules for treatment of prisoners should be known as the Mandela Rules in honour of former South African President Nelson Mandela.
The Mandela Rules recognise the importance of protecting human rights during the administration of criminal justice and crime prevention by formulating and implementing correctional laws, policies, procedures, and programmes.
“We are impressed with the practical efforts being made by Government through correctional service of infrastructure development in form of modern correctional facilities which are expected to facilitate adequate access to a clean and healthy environment,” Mr Muleya said.
He said the ultimate goal of transformation is restoring the offenders to law-abiding and productive members of society.
“It is hoped that the courts of law will support this process by prioritising alternative dispute resolutions and non-custodial sentences as opposed to heavily relying on custodial sentences,” Mr Muleya said.