Arbitrary Detention Worsening Overcrowding in Zim Jails

Harare, February 28, 2014 – The arbitrary and excessive detention of suspects is contributing to overcrowding in Zimbabwe’s jails, findings from a new report show.In a 54 paged report entitled “Pre-Trial Detention in Zimbabwe”, which analysed the criminal justice and conditions of pre-trial detention in the country and launched Friday in the Harare, the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and Law Society of Zimbabwe found out that 30 percent of the country’s prison population were pre-trial detainees.

The report cited severe underfunding, capacity constraints and poor conditions of service among institutions within the justice delivery system as having contributed to increasing inefficiency in caseflow management which has resulted in unnecessary prolonged stays for many pre-trial detainees.

“This excessive detention undoubtedly violates inmates’ rights to freedom, dignity and a fair and speedy trial as enshrined in the constitution as well in other national, regional and international statues,” reads part of the report which was launched by Harare West legislator, Jessie Majome, who chairs the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.

Prison conditions remained despicable and inhumane and amounted to violations of the detainees’ rights, according to the report while shortages of basic services, nutritious food and adequate clothing remained rampant.

The launch of the report comes at a time when officials from the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPSC) have just disclosed that more than 100 prisoners have died in Zimbabwe’s prisons since January 2013 owing to nutrition-related illnesses induced by food shortages and natural causes. President Robert Mugabe recently pardoned 2 000 prisoners.

As part of the solution to help mitigate the crisis in the country’s prisons, ZLHR and LSZ recommended the establishment of a caseflow management system to enable more rapid processing of cases, an increment in government funding to upgrade infrastructure at detention facilities and improved conditions of service for employees within the justice delivery system.

In her remarks Majome said the report is a clarion call to formulate policies that enable the speedy realisation of the rights of pre-trial detainees and urged Zimbabwean authorities to implement the recommendations as suggested by ZLHR and LSZ.

Godfrey Malembeka, the executive director of Zambia’s Prisons and Care Counselling Association also told delegates at the launch of the report that problems faced by detainees in Zimbabwe were similar to those prevailing in the neighbouring country.

Malembeka said 17 000 prisoners are currently incarcerated in 87 prisons in Zambia which have a holding capacity of 7 000. Out of 17 000 incarcerated in the southern African country, 5 000 are detained in remand prison while Zambian leader Michael Sata has pardoned 4 000 prisoners.