Fanatics of condom distribution in Zambia’s prisons, no doubt, have their own agenda as much as such reformatory facilities should not be as ugly as sin.
Make no gaffe, this piece is not intended to dwell on prison political polemics but expose the deposit of prison reality.
Agitating for the distribution of condoms in Zambia’s prisons against rising statistics of HIV/AIDS spreading among inmates is as good as flying asunder the whole pledging ethicality of the correction facilities in the country.
Recently, Zambia had been bewildered with the trepidation of whether condoms should be distributed to inmates in reformatory facilities or otherwise in the wake of allegations that sodomy is rife in prisons.
Yet the atrocious crime of proposing the agenda to avail condoms to inmates will neither attempt to palliate nor deny also the truth that every reformatory facility such as a prison is the author of its fortune or ill-fortune because as long as one is confined to such reformatory facility, he or she loses her or his human rights!
Again, the chief disadvantage of availing condoms to prisoners is that the practice will promote sodomy which is already rife in prisons which have been impregnated with alarming HIV/AIDS cases.
Enter a recent macabre prison scene which unfolded on Christmas Day when two male remandees at Lusaka Prison were caught in the act by fellow inmates having sex. The matter was reported to relevant authorities for deterrent action to be taken against the culprits. But this is not the first such inhuman obsession!
Only five years ago, the Zambia Prisons Service conducted a survey on HIV/AIDS status in prisons and it was indicated that HIV/AIDS prevalence rate stood at 27 per cent in all facilities in the country which still remains absurdly high.
A 135-page 2010 report on conditions of Zambia prisons reveals that prisoners suffer malnutrition, over-crowding, inadequate medical care and risks of rape and torture.
The Human Rights Watch Prisons Care and Counselling Association (PRISCCA) and the AIDS and Right Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) released the report.
Worse still, prisoners are starved, huddled together in cells unfit for human habitation and beaten up by fellow inmates and prison officers.
But could condom distribution in prisons strangle the high HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the correctional facilities?
Tenneshi Tembo, a small-scale farmer in 21 Miles area off Mufulira Road, is a ‘jail bird’.
He was released from prison two years ago and confides that ‘fresh inmates’ are exposed to chilling inhuman experience from fellow remandees.
Opening his heart to this author, Mr Tembo quips that inmates are abused by those who have been serving long jail sentences.
“I believe condoms should be given to inmates because most of them are always raped by fellow prisoners. Perhaps, distributing the commodity would reduce the HIV/AIDS spread among inmates unless other measures are put in place to curtail sodomy in the reformatory facilities.”he said.
Out of this, many commentators believe that the fight against the spread of sexually transmitted infections in prisons should be looked at holistically which also invites the behavioural change interventions as a way to stop sodomy in prisons.
Zambia Prisons Service has put in on record that it will not allow the distribution of condoms in prisons because doing so would encourage homosexuality among inmates.
ZPS Commissioner Percy Chato on record has having said that the prisons authority has no intentions of distributing and supplying condoms to inmates.
Mr Chato said this after he launched the mobile hospital at Kamfinsa State Prisons, adding that permitting the distribution and supply of condoms would encourage sodomy, an act which was illegal in the country.
“We have an obligation to protect and promote the Republican Constitution. If we permit distribution of condoms it’s like we are contradicting the provisions of the Constitution which prohibit homosexuality,” he said.
Mr Chato assures that the prisons service is determined to prevent acts of homosexuality in prisons because it was a known fact that this was one of the major drivers of HIV/AIDS.
He said the service five years ago conducted a survey on the status of HIV/AIDS in prisons and it indicated that the prevalence rate stood at 27 per cent in all facilities which was very high.
Mr Chato said a significant number of prisoners were nowadays aware of the vice and this had helped to reduce the prevalence rate.
“Most inmates are now aware of the danger of indulging in homosexuality and its consequences. So the HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in most facilities across the country is now at a minimal level,” he said.
Mr Chato also invites concerned non-governmental organisations and other relevant stakeholders to come on board and conduct a research on homosexuality and HIV/AIDS in all facilities across Zambia. To him, stakeholders should determine the course of action with regard to condom distribution in prisons.
In the same vein, Zambia Prisons Fellowship executive director Teddy Mweetwa condemns the proposal to distribute condoms in prisons, saying the move would promote homosexuality and that Zambia was a Christian nation – the proposal to distribute condoms among inmates was unacceptable.
“I may not have the background on the proposal to distribute condoms to inmates in prison but as Zambia Prisons Fellowship, we are not in support of this proposal, we are a Christian organisation. The move will promote homosexuality which is against our values,” he said.
A prison without Christianity is a creature of macabre circumstances even if the facility has its own theatre.
Mr Mweetwa contends that homosexuality was a criminal offence that was contrary to the Laws of Zambia and also against the rules of nature adding that distribution of condoms in prisons would encourage homosexuality not only among inmates but also outsiders who might see the act to be morally right.
He recoils that condoms were not the only way to reduce HIV/AIDS infections among inmates, further arguing that there was need to promote abstinence in prisons to lower the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS.
Some stakeholders, who include Church mother bodies and inmates, also object to the proposal of distributing condoms in prisons.
Inmates at Kamfinsa State Prison during a recent HIV/AIDS and Tuberculosis conference for Copperbelt officers held at Kamfinsa State Prison vehemently objected to the proposal, arguing that doing so could promote sodomy.
Peer educators at the prison said distributing condoms in prisons was as good as promoting homosexuality among inmates to which they were averse.
They charged that they would rather embrace programmes on behavioural change than consent to the distribution of condoms amongst themselves.
Interestingly enough, inmates at Mwembeshi and Lusaka prisons joined the chorus when they also rejected the proposal to distribute condoms in prisons and have instead called for the introduction of behavioural change programmes among prisoners.
At Mwembeshi prison, the inmates say sodomy was against societal values hence the need to implement programmes to help change the behaviour of the minority prisoners. And only recently, inmates at Kamfinsa State Prison in Kitwe also rejected condoms, saying making them available in prisons would promote sodomy.
On the issue, former Home Affairs Minister Edgar Lungu refers to the Penal Code and the Prisons Act, contending that Government had no intentions of supplying prisons with condoms as this would encourage sodomy, which is illegal in Zambia.
For whatever reasons, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) put it that it would be the worst form of hypocrisy to distribute condoms in prisons.
EFZ believes that prisoners have had their human rights forfeited immediately after being sentenced to serve various jail terms slapped on them for various offences.
Pukuta Mwanza, the EFZ executive director, said condom distribution is promoting homosexuality, which is a sin punishable by law under the Penal Code, adding that allowing the practice in prisons amounts to moral contradiction.
Mr Mwanza argues that the problems besetting prisons with regard to homosexuality should be investigated to find the leading factors to the issue.
He contends that distributing condoms to inmates would be a deliberate agenda to force Government to legalising homosexuality in prisons.
He says the practice to propagate condom distribution among inmates was in itself illegal regardless of the circumstances surrounding the state of prisons and inmates in the country.
On the contrary, Shadreck Mokosha, a Ndola based business executive, believes inmates should be availed with condoms to deter the spread of the HIV/AIDS, arguing that failure to do so would result in an upswing spread among inmates in prisons.
“It is common sense that society should come to terms with the reality prevailing in prisons with regard to cases of increased HIV/AIDS incidences. Behaviour change may be a far-fetched initiative to contain the spread of the disease because some inmates may not be willing to change.
“If you say distributing condoms in prisons will promote homosexuality then it is better than promoting the spread of the disease because some of the inmates will be re-united with their families and communities after serving their jail terms, which may pose a danger of infecting innocent people by former inmates,” intones Mr Mokosha.
California prisoners have unprotected sexual contact, forced or consensual, even if both are illegal, and this reality often leads to the spread of HIV and other diseases in prisons and in communities where felons are paroled.
A US state lawmaker once remarked that it is time to give inmates a way to practice safe sex behind bars to reduce an infection rate that experts say is much higher than that of the general population.
The recent proposal from Oakland Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta surfaced despite a law prohibiting any sex between inmates, which created a conflict that concerns both supporters and opponents of the legislation.
“It is a felony for prisoners to have sex while they are in prison, so I do not think it is good for the government to encourage inmates to break the law,” said Republican Assemblyman Dan Logue of Marysville.
Then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a 2007 bill that would have allowed non-profit and health organisations to provide condoms to state prisoners. But in his veto message, the Republican governor instructed the corrections department to test a condom distribution programme in one prison.
As debate on the vitality of availing condoms to inmates unfolds, it is cardinal to understand that history and experience also teaches us to consider rebasing our moral currency as a country.
Overtly, opposing the sin of sodomy in prisons is obedience to God!