Prisoner exchange programme bears fruits
Published On October 3, 2014 » 870 Views» By Hildah Lumba » Features
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• prisons overcrowding remains endemic in Zambia

• prisons overcrowding remains endemic in Zambia

By JULIUS PHIRI -

OVERCROWDING among inmates in holding cells has become a common phenomenon in most of the areas across the country’s prisons.
This is a situation where the demand for space in prisons exceeds the capacity for prisoners.
Overpopulation in prisons is a major source of problems which affects the health of inmates.
Prison overcrowding is breaking records with federal prisons operating on an average of 34 per cent above capacity.
This can occur when the rate at which people are incarcerated exceeds the rate at which other prisoners are released or die, thereby freeing up prison space.
Some of the solutions to prison overcrowding focus on increasing prison capacity.
This includes the construction of new prisons and the conversion of space within existing facilities that have been used for other purposes into prison space.
Other solutions that have been employed involve keeping offenders, particularly those who commit non-violent or less violent offenses out of prison.
Alternate forms of sentencing are used such as probation, community service, restitution, diversion programmes and house arrest.
Additionally, inmates may become eligible for early release from parole and other credits.
Some prisoners are detained for years in such conditions even before they are brought to trial.
Prisoners in Zambia suffer malnutrition, overcrowding, inadequate medical care, and the risk of rape or torture, as the Prisons Care and Counselling Association (PRISCCA), AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) have stated in the Human Rights Watch report.
Some prisoners are detained for years in such conditions even before they are brought to trial.
“Zambian prisoners are starved, packed into cells unfit for human habitation, and face beatings at the hands of certain guards or fellow inmates,” the Human Rights Watch report says.
The two groups called on the Zambian government and its partners to make immediate improvements in prison conditions and medical care and the criminal justice system both to respect the rights of prisoners and to protect public health.
The report says prisoners frequently spend years in prison awaiting resolution of their case.
Over a third of inmates in Zambia are not serving time following a conviction but are in prison on remand, awaiting trial or other legal action.
They frequently have no access to a lawyer or to bail and may wait months for an initial appearance before a judge.
Immigration detainees often linger in prison with no due process.
Partly as a result of such justice failures, overcrowding is endemic in Zambian prisons.
Children and adults, remand, immigration and convicted detainees all are held together in spaces.
Indeed it is for this reason and many others that Zambia and Malawi on September 29, 2009 entered into a Joint Permanent Commission (JPC) through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on reformation of prisoners by exchanging convicted prisoners serving various sentences to complete the remainder of their custodial sentences in their home country.
The MoU was signed in Kabwe which is the headquarters of the Prisons Service of Zambia.
On September 23, 2012, the two countries exchanged 25 prisoners that were convicted and were serving custodial sentences back in their countries of their origin.
Thirteen Zambian prisoners that were serving their custodial sentences in different prisons in Malawi were transferred to complete their remainder of their sentences in Zambia in exchange with 12 Malawian prisoners that were serving their sentences in various prisons in Zambia.
Again on September 22, 2014, fifteen Malawians who were serving their sentences in Zambia were taken back to Malawi during a ceremony dubbed ‘transfer of convicted persons programme’ between Zambia and Malawi.
Eastern Province Permanent Secretary Dr Chileshe Mulenga said Zambia was committed to domesticate international instruments and setting up regional mechanisms that fostered improvements in the welfare of prisoners.
Zambia is part of the United Nations standard minimum rules for non-custodial measures also referred to as the Tokyo rules.
Chief Commissioner of Malawi Prisons Service Kennedy Nkhoma said the occasion was another milestone in as far as fulfilling the objectives of the joint permanent commission on defence and security between the two countries is concerned.
Mr Nkhoma explained that the event was also significant on the other aspect that the output of the activity has a direct bearing on the lives of the convicted fellows both during and after incarceration.
He said it was believed that rehabilitation is effective where an offender is in close content with his or her family.
“I personally believe that community involvement on issues of correction should start right away an offender gets into prison. This allows for an offender to reorganise him or herself and prepare his or her own sentence plan. It also allows an offender to re-define his or her life and quickly identify his or her re-integration strategy,” he said.
“Permit me to applaud the Government of the Republic of Zambia and that of the Government of the Republic of Malawi for making it possible for us to undertake this exercise,”.
“This signifies the seriousness and commitment the two countries have on promoting our bilateral relation and more importantly issues of security,”Mr Nkhoma stated.
He explained that Malawi Prisons will not be able to transfer those Zambian nationals currently serving their sentences in Malawi Prisons due to the fact that they were still processing their transfer documents.
“As we agreed earlier on, we are here to take our citizens back home to where their rehabilitation will continue. I should assure you that Malawi prisons are committed to strengthening and improving this arrangement. Next time we are transferring prisoners, commissioner, I would like to see our correctional officers transferring records on sentence planning, rehabilitation and not only security documents such as committal warrants and judgments. We should seem to be progressing to more of corrections,” he said.
He said prisons across the globe have always occupied at the bottom of the list of priorities.
He explained that he had always admired a motto by one of the organisations in Malawi which says ‘the future is to the organised’ which sounds simple but tells a million stories.
Speaking at the same function, Commissioner of Prisons Percy Chato said the transfer was a testimony that the Malawi Prisons Service was committed to the implementation and execution of the Agreement on the Transfer of Convicted Persons which was signed by the two Governments in Kabwe.
He said the transfer of 15 Malawi nationals from Zambia to Malawi shows the commitment in realising the aforementioned ideas.
He said the Malawi Prison Service and the Zambia Prison Service were alive to the fact that, in realising the ideals which require that citizens who are sentenced offenders as a result of criminal offences they committed in either Zambia or Malawi,  should be given an opportunity to serve their sentences within their home countries.
Mr Chato said  the occasion was a practical testimony of the commitment between the two respective prisons services as part of working together as prisons in the SADC region and the broader family of the African Corrections/Prisons Services Association (ACSA).
The importance of the exercise of transfer of convicted persons to their home country cannot be over-emphasised as it borders on social rehabilitation beyond the practical concern of alleviating prison over-crowding and dealing with convicted persons.
It was a well-known fact that it was hard for one to serve a sentence away from the home country where one was able to socialise freely with family and friends.

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