Friday, April 03, 2009

(HERALD) Prisons mirror impact of sanctions

Prisons mirror impact of sanctions

THE Government this week acknowledged the appalling conditions faced by prisoners and rightly situated them in the rubric of the illegal economic sanctions that have constrained Government’s capacity to provide basic social services.

Justice and Legal Affairs Minister Senator Patrick Chinamasa told Parliament about the acute shortage of food and uniforms, and disease outbreaks in the prisons.

The picture the minister painted clearly depicted the debilitating effects of the sanctions the West refuses to scrap to this day.

Lack of food aggravates already poor hygiene conditions in prisons as malnutrition makes prisoners highly vulnerable to infectious diseases such as tuberculosis.

The law governing our prisons says that all inmates are entitled to a prescribed diet, and prisons should have a budget per prisoner per day.

And the daily ration for prisoners must generally comprise three meals — breakfast, lunch and supper.

But this has not been achieved owing to the harsh economic environment spawned by the economic warfare we have been subjected to over the past decade. The effects of the sanctions are what we are now seeing — malnutrition and escalation of preventable diseases.

Under such circumstances, the risk of death is quite high.

Another frightening thing is the confirmation by Minister Chinamasa that cholera cases had been recorded at Harare Remand, Harare Central, Beitbridge and Masvingo prisons.

The consequences of a cholera outbreak in a prison are too ghastly to contemplate.

And we need to take note of the fact that it is not only prisoners who are at risk under these conditions, as prison staff will not be spared.

Working in such dire conditions exposes prison warders to diseases and other deadly hazards because they are in regular contact with sick inmates.

To address these issues, there should be a holistic approach in the areas of finance, infrastructure, health, agriculture and water, all of which have a bearing on the operations of the prisons service.

In the past, prisoners would grow their own food — maize and vegetables, and also practise animal husbandry.

What has happened to the prison farms? We believe that the idea of prison farms and gardens should be revisited and prisons should benefit from input schemes where fertiliszrs and seed are distributed.

There are also prisoners who have spent many years awaiting trial. We believe such prisoners should have their cases reviewed depending on the nature of the crime for immediate release.

Murderers and rapists would not expect to receive consideration in these circumstances.

Also eligible should be the elderly, the terminally ill, as well as people locked up for longer than the prospective sentence for their crime.

Among those who have languished in prisons for years are some who were picked up by mistake or for very minor infractions and simply could not pay a fine.

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