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By Daniel Nemukuyu
THE Zimbabwe Prison and Correctional Services (ZPCS), accused of showing favour to incarcerated ex-Cabinet ministers and other public figures by separating them from other inmates and offering them special treatment, has defended its position saying the practice is meant to protect them against violence and harassment.
Speaking during an all-stakeholder anti-graft Indaba organised by the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) and Transparency International Zimbabwe (TIZ) in Harare recently, ZPCS Deputy Commissioner-General Christine Manhivi said such public figures were prone to abuse and harassment in the cells.
Recently, there was a public outcry after reports filtered that a former Cabinet minister Prisca Mupfumira arrested for corruption-related charges was offered five-star treatment in remand prison.
Reports also made rounds that some prison officers had developed relationships with inmates to an extent of allowing them to be intimate with their partners in solitary cells, while serving.
Other inmates were reportedly seen attending family funerals when they are expected to be in prison.
Deputy Comm-Gen Manhivi said prisoners are classified differently and ministers and other public figures fall under the class of those who need protection by removal from others.
She said the treatment of such inmates is not a favour, but ZPCS protects them in terms of the law.
“We have different classes of inmates who, all need protection in terms of the law. All of us are potential prisoners and we must protect inmates as required by the law.
“Ministers and other public figures are prone to verbal and physical abuse when in custody by some angry inmates.
“Recently a female minister who was in remand prison, was harassed and threatened with violence by some inmates who accused of failing to build proper cells while in Government.
“We had to remove her and place her in a different cell as a way of protecting her from attack,” she said.
Deputy Comm-Gen Manhivi said the isolation of the minister is not a favour, but ZPCS simply acts in terms of the law.
“That is neither a favour nor preferential treatment at all. It’s not about giving them preferential treatment, but it’s a matter of classes.
“We simply separate them from the violent ones in terms of the law,” she said.
However, legal experts described the practice as unfair.
Harare lawyer Mr Alex Majachani said all inmates were equal regardless of their status in society.
“It is not appropriate at all. It violates the right to equality before the law. All inmates have the same status in prisons and no one must be treated differently.
“Again, high ranking officials need to appreciate the conditions of prisons once they are caught on the wrong side of the law,” said Mr Majachani.
South Africa-based lawyer Mrs Tambudzai Gonese-Manjonjo said the practice only benefits public figures.
“It’s unfair. I think if everyone is subjected to the same conditions as others in cells, chances of having improvements in prison conditions will be higher. High profile inmates will be heard better,” she said.
A check with the criterion used to determine who qualifies for open prison shows that one’s status in society was not considered.
Any inmate who would have served for about three years and left with two years of his or her jail term can be considered to serve in an open prison.
Those serving for serious offences like murder, stock-theft, robbery, rape and other sexual offences cannot be considered.
They also consider one’s behaviour when he or she was serving in a closed prison.
Since open prisons allow home visits, ZPCS establishes whether or not the inmate has relatives who can accept him for periodic home visits from open prison.
Meanwhile, another ZPCS official Chief Superintendent Patricia Mavhembu said corruption levels have significantly gone down through awareness programmes and continuous training of officers.
She said at times officers would create a corrupt relationship with inmates or their relatives, but ZPCS command read riot act, whipping them into line.
“We have heard of relations built between officers and inmates or their relatives where inmates end up getting favours.
“In the procurement section, payments are done to suppliers on a first come, first serve basis, but those who supply late may get paid first because of corruption.
“The management read recently the riot act against corruption right from the top to the most junior officer.
“There is now tight monitoring and review of operations to ensure compliance. Through such measures, ZPCS has managed to reduce corruption among its officers.
“In any organisation there are always bad apples, but they are dealt with in terms of the law. Rogue elements are dismissed,” she said.