ZIMBABWE is ranked amongst the most corrupt nations in the world.
It is often said that the well-heeled who are corrupt have their way of escaping the long arm of the law, hence it is essentially the “small fish” that go to prison.
But once in prison, correctional employees are expected to turn offenders into a different kind of person — one who abides by the law and supports himself or herself with his or her own labour, and to re-establish these people as free citizens in society once they complete their jail terms.
But while prison wardens and guards receive special legal and vocational training, and are then certified before taking the job, they are aiding and abetting corruption in cahoots with mostly financially-sound incarcerated inmates.
Prison graft ranges from the smuggling in of contraband, secretive conjugal visits, business deals right up to gun-running.
Often, this worsening delinquency by prison officers is going unnoticed except for the few cases that spill into the courts.
The Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs ministry regularly sends teams to prisons to supervise the law-enforcement activities at the correctional institutions and protect, according to law, the prisoners’ right to appeal, right to make accusations and right to report unlawful activities.
But more and more prison officers are violating criteria and procedures for assessing daily conduct and conditions for rewards and penalties for prisoners, which are codified and publicly promulgated in order to prevent arbitrary or capricious behaviour on the part of the prison staff in their work.
Prison staff must abide by this code to the letter in all aspects of their work.
Yet corruption is becoming a prevalent problem among correctional staff.
One of the worst cases ever reported was of a prison guard, Hazvienzani Katiro, who supplied ammunition to convicted robbers who had completed their jail terms.
Katiro had stolen a number of 9mm live rounds of ammunition from his workplace before offering the ex-convicts who in turn committed armed robberies and attempted murders as they furthered their criminal activities.
In other cases, a robber who had been left with 39 days claimed to have been assisted to sneak out of prison by prison guards who feared he would divulge their underhand dealings.
Tawanda Chikonyora, who was serving in the A Class at Chikurubi, claimed he was given a set of civilian clothes and bus fare by a senior prison officer only identified as Gandiwa and advised to escape unnoticed after a phone that showed EcoCash transactions between wardens and inmates had been caught.
In Chikonyora’s mobile phone were messages showing EcoCash transactions between prison officers and inmates in exchange for special favours.
Chikonyora was subsequently apprehended and convicted of escaping lawful custody and returned back to prison to embark on another four-year jail term.
Recently, rapist and businessman Munyaradzi Kereke was embroiled in a bribery scam in which he set up a poultry project for prison bosses in exchange for favours while in jail.
Kereke is alleged to have pumped
$9 000 into the project, from jail.
The three prison bosses Nobert Chomurenga, 58, a senior assistant commissioner heading Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS), Harare, Cephas Chiparausha, 43, the chief correctional officer and Tonderai Mutiwaringa, 56, an assistant commissioner stationed at ZPCS headquarters, are being charged with criminal abuse of office.
They have appeared in court.
An armed robber who spent 14 years at Chikurubi Maximum Prison before his release on bail pending appeal told the Daily News on Sunday that impoverished and poorly-paid prison guards were committing crimes to eke a living as the economy tanks.
“Money can buy you anything if you are in prison. Rich people who go to jail almost get anything that they want and it is true that prison officials can arrange for an inmate to get unscheduled visits,” said the armed robber, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Sometimes they stage-manage that a prisoner is ill and take him to the clinic where a family member is then sneaked in so that other inmates do not see this happening, but everyone knows that is what happens.”
Legal experts have condemned such conduct saying it defiles the mandate of ZPCS to rehabilitate criminals.
“ZPCS is a body established in terms of section 207 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and when you look at its functions, it is actually derived from its name because if you look at section 227(1a) it spells out that their duty is to protect the society of Zimbabwe from criminals who have been lawfully convicted,” lawyer Liberty Gono said.
“Their duty is to rehabilitate convicted criminals because although they are supposed to be punished for their unlawful conduct, the function of ZPCS is to make sure that they can be reintegrated into society once their prison terms are completed.
“If you also look at sub-section 2 of section 227 of the Constitution it further says ZPCS is supposed to be a non-partisan and professionally run body so instances wherein you find prison guards at the fore front of committing crimes and going against their mandate then we have got a very huge problem.”
Legal expert Tarisai Mkwacha said the economic crises was driving prison officials into committing crimes but slammed the deviant acts which he said jeopardized the justice delivery system process.
“Rehabilitation is the re-integration into society of a convicted person and the main objective of modern penal policy is to counter habitual offending, also known as criminal recidivism,” Mkwacha said.
“Four different goals of corrections are commonly espoused:
retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation. Each of these goals has received varied levels of public and professional support over time.
“With the economic crises in Zimbabwe, the purpose of rehabilitation in prison is far from being achieved because of rampant corruption in the justice system. A fundamental question always arises ‘who guards the guards?’ when prison officials are involved in corrupt dealings to eke a living.
“It is with regret that the core purpose of rehabilitation is
abrogated by its custodians. Recently a senior correctional officer was involved in a chicken farming business with an inmate. This is only a tip of an iceberg. There are more serious dealings and exchanges of money going in our prisons from small drugs, fraud and arms dealing,” Mkwacha said.
Gift Mtisi, a member of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said training on discipline is necessary to end this form of corruption.
“…and also to pay them salaries which are above poverty datum level,” said Mtisi.