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Zim prisoners living under harsh conditions

Prisoners in Zimbabwe are living under harsh and life-threatening conditions owing to a cocktail of challenges faced by the Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS), a recent United States report has indicated.

Zimbabwe’s economy which took a nosedive at the turn of the millennium has not spared the country’s prisons.

According to the 2019 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Zimbabwe, released by the US Department of State this week, not all is well in the country’s prisons.

“Prison conditions were harsh and life-threatening due to overcrowding, food shortages, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care,” read the report.

“The Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS) struggled to provide adequate food and sanitary conditions and worked with faith-based and community organizations to help address these problems. Conditions in prisons, jails, and detention centres were often harsh. There were approximately 20,000 prisoners, spread across 46 main prisons and 26 satellite prisons.”

The US Department of State, said while some prisons operated below capacity, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) reported that most of them were overcrowded, due to outdated infrastructure and judicial backlogs.

Prisoners, the department added, were physically abused in 2019.

“Prison guards occasionally beat and abused prisoners, but NGOs reported the use of excessive force by prison guards was not systematic,” said the report.

“Relations between prison guards and prisoners improved during the year as part of a positive trend NGOs observed during the past several years. On October 18, a young street vendor, Hilton Tamangani, who had been arrested with 10 others for assaulting a police officer, was found dead in his cell in the Harare Remand Prison. His lawyers claimed he was severely beaten by police and then denied medical treatment.”

Female prisoners according to the report, however, fared better than their male counterparts.

“Women generally received more food from their families than male prisoners,” said the report.

“The several dozen children younger than age four living with their incarcerated mothers shared their mothers’ food allocation, rather than receiving their own. NGOs were unaware of female inmates reporting rapes or other physical abuse. With support from NGOs, prisons distributed some supplies such as sanitary pads for women.”

According to the report, officials did not provide pregnant women and nursing mothers with additional care or food rations out of the ZPCS budget, but the ZPCS solicited and received donations from NGOs and donors for additional provisions.

The ZPCS, the report said, provided inmates with opportunities to participate in sewing, mechanics, woodworking, and agricultural activities.

Churches and other organisations were also allowed to teach life-skills in the prisons.

The 2013 constitution added prisoner rehabilitation and reintegration into society to ZPCS responsibilities.

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