Editor's Comment

Decongest prisons

Mukobeko Maximum Correctional Centre.

THOUGH by law Zambia has maintained the death sentence for very serious and few cases, namely, treason, murder and aggravated robbery, in practice the country has a de facto moratorium on death penalty.
Zambian Presidents have been reluctant to sign the death warrants. Statistics show that between 1978 to 1987 and 1988 to 1997, only 7 and 12 convicts were executed in Zambia.
The last known execution was in 1997 under President Frederick Chiluba.
There has been no execution from 1998 onwards, meaning Presidents Mwanawasa, Rupiah Banda, Michael Sata and the current head of State Edgar Lungu declined to append their signatures on the death warrants.
The heads of State have been of the view that it is only God who is allowed to take a person’s life.
Instead of appending their signatures for execution of those on death row, some heads of State decided to commute the death sentences to life imprisonment.
President Lungu is on record to have commuted 332 prisoners on death row to life imprisonment a few months after ascending to the Presidency in 2015.
The Head of State has continued to commute more with 14 on death role commuted to life imprisonment this year.
The Human rights Commission (HRC) and other activists have been advocating for the formal abolition of the death penalty adding that it should be replaced with a life sentence because killing convicts is not only cruel and inhuman but also serves as an act of vengeance.
HRC says a global research has revealed that the death penalty does not deter would-be offenders from committing grave crimes, and that the State should be above making emotional decisions.
The HRC believes, and rightly so, that life is too sacred to be deprived under any circumstance, either by an individual or by the State.
The Commission is however concerned about recent calls by some sections of society for Government to expand capital punishment to legalise execution of individuals convicted of certain crimes.
“Government should not succumb to calls to either implement the death penalty, or expand offences punishable by death because such actions will seriously reverse the gains made by the country over the years towards abolishing the death penalty,” HRC spokesperson Mweelwa Muleya has said.
While it is agreeable that there have been calls to extend death penalty to offences such as defilement, we do not think the HRC have reason to worry, given the country’s adopted practice on death sentences.
For the past 18 years, no death sentence has been executed. This certainly sets a precedent which even future presidents are likely to follow.
As things stand we should concern ourselves with ensuring that the crimes are not committed and to also improve capacity of correctional facilities to accommodate more prisoners being commuted to life imprisonment.
For instance the country’s current correctional facilities are meant to accommodate 8,000 inmates but house more than 21,000.
This calls for measures to decongest the prisons such as expanding existing infrastructure to match the current population growth.
The courts of Law will also do well to avoid ease up on custodial sentences.
For instance, those convicted for petty thieving and other negligible offences can be sentenced to community work as opposed to custodial sentence.
There have been cases where some people have been given custodial sentence for stealing clothes, a chicken and so forth.
For such, community work is sufficient punishment. Community work does not only decongest the prisons but also reduces government expenditure on feeding the inmates.
Actually those who commit minor offences can be used in the “Keep Zambia Clean, Green and Healthy” campaign.
Instead of keeping such offenders in prison, they should be allocated potions in the city to maintain for the period of the sentence.
Such can also be used to produce food thereby promoting food security.
As things stand, Zambia has a good record where death penalty and human rights are concerned.

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