By CHUSA SICHONE? –
PRELIMINARY findings by the Human Rights Commission (HRC) have revealed that prisons and other detention facilities in Zambia are still not fit for habitation.
HRC director Florence Chibwesha said in a statement in Lusaka yesterday that visits to 90 places of detention in 2013 in Northern, Muchinga, Western and Eastern provinces revealed that conditions in the prisons and other detention facilities remained unresolved.
“The commission, pursuant to the powers vested in it by Section 10 of the Act, conducted physical inspection of these places of detention and interviewed those who were detained and the officers charged with the responsibility to look after them.
“The commission found that there were minimum efforts to improve the infrastructure capacity although general conditions of detention remained the same, contrary to the United Nations minimum standards on the treatment of detained persons,” she said.
The HRC’s August 2013 inspection findings revealed that congestion remained a major problem as most of the facilities were built in the colonial era to hold a smaller inmate population, citing Chipata Central Prison as the most crowded with 758 inmates against the official holding capacity of 250.
Mongu Central Prison had 570 inmates instead of 180; Milima State Prison accommodated 513 inmates against the 200 capacity; Mpika State Prison had 232 inmates instead of 90; Isoka State Prison accommodates 192 inmates against a capacity of 90.?Others are Senanga Prison with 130 inmates against a capacity of 50; Kaoma State Prison has 114 against the 40 capacity; Mbala Prison inmates stand at 103 against the capacity of 40, while Chinsali Prison with 108 against capacity of 40.
There was also evidence of torture in the form of beatings or whipping with crude instruments, physical assault and injuries as well as psychological abuse inflicted on detainees by the officers and fellow inmates.
Other findings were that there was no physical separation between untried inmates and convicted ones as remandees and convicts shared the same dormitories, adding that young offenders were not treated differently from adults, particularly in prisons without provision for young offenders.
The commission found that prisons were not designed to accommodate persons with physical disabilities and the blind as well as inadequate food and inadequate health services for inmates.
It was further discovered that existing cells at most Police stations were being used for holding suspects longer than the legally permitted 24 hours and that most of the police stations visited had no cells for women and juvenile suspects or remandees who were being kept in the corridors.
None of the prisons visited had special provisions for protection of circumstantial children and the Prison Service did not have special diets for children who go in prison with their mothers at the time of the visits.
The HRC was, however, happy that the Government had embarked on the construction of prison infrastructure in some parts of the country but that the few that had been built and upgraded were inadequate for the existing inmate population.
The commission has since made several recommendations to the Government focused on addressing the aforementioned and other challenges.
“We wish to urge the relevant authorities to take immediate action to change face of our prisons and the plight of inmates,” she said.