The Malawi Law Commission (MLC) has ruled out the possibility of considering inmates in Malawi prisons to exercise conjugal rights during their jail terms.
Chairperson for the special Law Commission on the Review of the Prisons Act, Justice Ken Manda, said this on Thursday in Lilongwe where the Commission had a national consultative workshop with stakeholders on findings and recommendations the commission had compiled.
He told journalists that while in other countries the provision of conjugal rights to inmates was exercised, Malawi could not practice it due to a number of limiting factors.
Manda said during the Commission’s regional consultative meetings and visits to a number of prisons across the country the most dominating issue was that of congestion in almost all the prisons across the country, and not the issue of conjugal rights.
“It would be worthwhile to concentrate on the most pressing issue of congestion rather than that of conjugal rights,” he reasoned, adding, “The issue of conjugal rights cannot work in Malawi prisons because we do not have proper facilities for such practice.”
The Chairperson, who is also Judge of the Lilongwe High Court, said until the time Malawi as a country considered the issue as a requirement and put in place special structures for the inmates to enjoy conjugal rights with their spouses, the issue was a non-starter.
The national consultative workshop on the review of the Prisons Act sought validation of the findings and recommendations the Commission had gathered prior to compilation of the same into a bill to be presented to government.
The review of the Prisoners Act was necessitated by the 2007 Gable Masangano case in which he sued government for failing to improve the conditions of prisons in the country.
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 60-year-old 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, presently there are over 14, 430 inmates in Malawi prisons against the recommended figure of 5,000 to 7,000.
“The figure is likely to rise to 15,000 by December this year and this is quite unacceptable as it puts the prisoners at risk of catching communicable diseases such as TB,” Justice Manda pointed out.
He said to reduce congestion in the prisons, the Commission had made recommendations of early release of convicts involved in minor cases, and introduction of open jails where particular convicts could be allowed to serve outside and come back to jail in the evening, among other alternatives.
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