Prison inmates detained in Zimbabwe’s jails are experiencing untold suffering ranging from living in squalid conditions and food shortages as the southern African country stands on a precipice.
Officials from the Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS) on Wednesday disclosed before a parliamentary tribunal that the organisation was saddled with multifaceted problems that were inhibiting it from providing basic needs for prisoners including food, water, clothing and thereby infringing on their rights guaranteed in the country’s new constitution.
“The socio-economic challenges of the past years that bedeviled the nation did not spare ZPCS and this resulted in our inability to provide the right type and quantity of food. This situation however slightly improved since the introduction of the multi-currency system. Unfortunately, the funds from treasury are not enough to provide all the basic food for inmates,” said Aggrey Machingauta, the ZPCS Deputy Commissioner in charge of administration.
Machingauta, who was giving oral evidence on the state of prisons before the Senate thematic committee on human rights disclosed that ZPCS was failing to supply inmates with uniforms, protective clothing, blankets and sleeping mats.
“Currently, the situation does not allow us to provide these items given our strained budget,” Machingauta said.
The ZPCS boss also disclosed that the country’s 69 prisons were currently overcrowded as they were detaining 17 318 inmates against a holding capacity of 17 000.
Out of the prison population of 17 318, 14 462 are serving jail sentences after being convicted, 2 866 are unconvicted while 80 are juveniles and 308 are females.
“Our prison population reflects that we are already overcrowded meaning inmates’ rights to proper shelter is already compromised. The consequences of overcrowding vary from the spread of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis, budgetary constraints on the government and security threats,” Machingauta said.
The ZPCS, Machingauta said is also taking care of 29 babies, who were detained with their mothers or were born when their parents were already in prison detention.
Fuel shortages, Machingauta said, had resulted in the ZPCS failing to transport prisoners to attend court sessions while a depleted vehicle fleet had worsened the situation.
“Unfortunately, we have at times failed to honour this obligation which is tantamount to violating inmates’ right to be heard in courts of law on time,” the ZPCS boss said.
Machangauta said local authorities and the Zimbabwe National Water Authority had cut off water supplies to some of the country’s prisons while Chikurubi Maximum prison has gone for more than a decade without tap water, thereby putting the lives of several inmates at risk of contracting communicable diseases.
“It is by the grace of God that to date we have not encountered any serious outbreaks of water borne diseases,” Machingauta said.Last year, Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa was forced to deny reports by Virginia Mabhiza, the permanent secretary in his ministry and Machingauta after they both told legislators that more than 100 prisoners had died in detention in 2013 due to malnutrition and related illnesses caused by food shortages and natural causes.