THE government is working on measures to decongest the country’s overcrowded prisons with offenders that commit petty crimes being fined or sentenced to community service instead of being jailed, Justice minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has said.
Mnangagwa said there was need to promote other forms of punishment as opposed to putting every offender behind bars even for petty crimes, to lessen the burden on the crumbling prison system.
“I want to inform this august Senate that there are sentencing options that the government is pursuing as well as rehabilitative measures,” he said.
“The sentencing options comprise the following: Imposing a fine in lieu of a sentence, community service for lighter offences and first offenders, granting of bail to unconvicted prisoners and decongesting the juvenile population through the pre-trial diversion programme.”
He was responding to a question in Senate on what his ministry was doing to resolve challenges of overcrowding in the country’s prisons and the shortage of food and other requirements for prisoners.
Prisons in the country are failing to adequately cater for inmates in terms of food and uniforms owing to overcrowding with a research report by the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights and the Law Society of Zimbabwe showing that the nearly 30% of the country’s prison population are pre-trial detainees.
Most of the problems faced by the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services are related to funding shortfalls from national treasury.
The treasury allocated only $2,5 million against $21 million it had requested for in the 2014 national budget resulting in prisoners going hungry.
Mnangagwa added: “The rehabilitative measures being adopted comprise the following: Support programmes for released inmates, public awareness campaigns to conscientise the public about the merits of safely reintegrating released inmates as well as repercussion of committing crime and the establishment of open prisons in all regions.
“The government is relying on adequate financial support from treasury to procure farming implements and to revive irrigation schemes within the prison farms.
“The government is intensifying the existing agrarian programmes and other income-generating projects designed to reduce food shortages. Currently, we are harvesting maize. This is going to contribute to the availability of food in prisons.
“It is hoped that through these measures, the overcrowding and food shortages in the prisons of Zimbabwe will be alleviated to some extent in the future but it is not adequate for the entire fiscal year.”