Congestion in Malawi Prisons worries Law Commission

The Malawi Law Commission (MLC) has bemoaned congestion in Malawi prisons saying the facilities are keeping almost three times the recommended number of inmates thereby exposing them to health hazards.

Inside Malawi prison
Inside Malawi prison

Chairperson for special Law Commission on the Review of the Prisons Act, Commissioner Justice Ken Manda, made the observation Thursday in Lilongwe during a national consultative workshop aimed at getting the Commission’s findings and recommendations validated by stakeholders at national level.

He disclosed that presently there were over 14, 430 inmates in Malawi prisons against the recommended population of between 5,000 and 7,000 inmates.

Justice Manda said with such congestion the health of the inmates was at risk making them vulnerable to communicable diseases such as Tuberculosis.

“We believe that good prison health is good public health because after serving their term, inmates are finally freed and they go back into the society where they came from,” he  said adding, “So a healthy freed inmate would not put the lives of the members of the public in danger as unhealthy freed inmate would.”

The Chairperson said the commission’s recommendations to help decongest the prisons include use of early release of ‘petty case’ convicts, alternative sentences other than custodial jail and open jails where convicts can go and work outside and come back in the evening.

He said the commission believed that the above alternatives would yield results faster than constructing or extending prison structures which could take time.

The special Law Commission on the Review of the Prisons Act was formed following the case of one Gable Masangano who sued government in 2007 over the unbearable conditions of prisons in Malawi.

The court held that prison conditions in Malawi “amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners and that this was contrary to section 19 of the Constitution”.

The Malawi Prisons Service decided to conduct a review of the ACT to align it with the dictates of the Constitution and applicable international law and principles on the administration, governance and management of prisons and prisoners.

According to Justice Manda, the Commission in its regional consultative consultations went beyond Gable Masangano case to consider issues such as the possibility of regulating conditions of confinement in police holding cells; health checks on admission and release of a prisoner; and the admission and conditions of confinement of pregnant women.

The Commission also considered the admission and conditions of confinement of women with un-weaned children and prisoners with special needs; the rights of and privileges of prisoners and parole and other mechanism for early release.

The Thursday consultative workshop was the final exercise before the findings and recommendations were compiled into a bill to be presented to government.

“We hope to have everything finalized and present the bill to government by March next year,” said the Chairperson.

The current Prisons Act was enacted into law on 23 April 1956 and it fails short of conforming to a number of fundamental changes that have occurred in social-legal and constitutional framework over the decades.

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