ZIMBABWE’S prison population now stands at 19 521 inmates — 434 female — Justice ministry secretary, Virginia Mabhiza told Parliament on Tuesday.
by VENERANDA LANGA
Mabhiza had appeared together with Deputy Commissioner-General of Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services, Fadzai Mupfure before the Women Affairs and Gender Committee chaired by Biata Nyamupinga to speak on the conditions of female prisons.
“There are only two prisons in the country, Chikurubi and Shurugwi, that house females, and in the rest of the prisons there is only separation of male from female cells,” Mabhiza said.
“There are 363 foreign nationals in prison, 188 are prohibited immigrants and, out of these, nine are female. A total of 175 have been charged with criminal offences and out of those charged 170 are male, while five are female. The challenges that they usually face are dietary challenges and language barriers, as well as lack of contact with family.”
A total of 153 inmates, as at April 2017, were un-convicted and some had clocked eight months in remand prison. Mabhiza said male prisoners are prohibited from going into female cells.
“Government is taking steps to address requirements for open prisons for females and the target is to make Marondera Prison an open prison for females. Currently, there are 10 pregnant inmates, seven of whom have been convicted and three are still on remand,” Mabhiza said.
Nyamupinga asked why prisoners were made to sleep in cells with toilets inside them, and denied privacy while using the toilets. MPs said the toilets do not flush and prisoners were not provided with tissue paper resulting in some using tree leaves and sticks.
“I do not know whether it is a form of punishment that a prisoner uses the toilet while others are watching. This is 37 years after independence, but we have kept our prisoners under those inhumane conditions,” Nyamupinga said.
Mabhiza said she was conscious that government was obliged to comply with a High Court judgment demanding separation of toilets from cells, but they were facing budgetary constraints to revamp prisons.
“We also have inmates with disabilities that are not covered well by prison infrastructure. It is something that we are working on to provide suitable facilities, but we have budgetary constraints. A total of 14 girls and 16 boys of various ages are enrolled at Chikurubi pre-school,” she said.
Mabhiza said medical fee debts had ballooned to $12 million, with $600 000 owed to Parirenyatwa Hospital.
Some of the challenges at prisons included lack of ambulances.