Justice for prisoners

EDITOR - I have just finished reading an account of Jenni Williams’ stay in prison and her plea for the women who are incarcerated there. The account is distressing to say the least. I have written about the terrible state of Zimbabwe's prisons on a previous occasion and it is something that, as a Christian, bothers me immensely.

In the Gospel of Matthew and Chapter 25 from verse 31 is an outline of how Jesus Christ will judge the nations and separate the sheep from the goats. One of the failures of the goats is to visit those in prison. The Lord has compassion for those in prison.

Our prisons are in a shocking state and the treatment of many prisoners is simply unacceptable. We call on the government of Zimbabwe to legislate drastic laws to completely over-haul our prison system. There should be consultations with the relevant authorities, Zimbabwe human rights groups and other interested parties to bring about much need change. This should be done sooner rather than later as we need to take people’s lives and dignity into account. It is often a life or death situation. This is what needs to be done:

– All remand prisoners should be treated accordingly and given more leeway and fewer restrictions when awaiting trial. 16 hours a day in a small, dirty cell is absolutely unacceptable for all on remand and those serving time for less serious criminal charges. Is someone not innocent until proven guilty? Remand prisoners must have access to medical, their legal team and a timely court hearing.

– All prisoners serving terms for less serious charges should be rehabilitated and serve their sentences in open prisons doing gainful employment every day. Prison farms outside every city and town should be considered where prisoners cans grow their own food, learn animal husbandry, carpentry, mechanics, sewing and many other occupations to prepare them for life after their term of sentence ends. There needs to be libraries, space to exercise and openings for church and humanitarian groups to set up courses and teaching and learning stations etc.

– All government departments, police stations, cities and towns need rehabilitation. Even army HQ in Harare is derelict. Why not use the skills of many of the lesser offence prisoners to repair, paint, garden, clean and renovate. Prisoners should be put into teams and used gainfully to earn their keep and add to the rebuilding of the nation.

– All prisons should be clean with adequate ablution, laundry and kitchen facilities. Food needs to be simply, nutritionally and hygienically prepared. There should be basic beds and clean blankets. Adequate medical facilities should be readily available and no medical care should be withheld. All abuse and torture of prisoners must be dealt with and the perpetrators brought to book!

– We demand that arbitrary politically motivated arrests cease forthwith and that all political prisoners be accounted for and released.

– Community service should be considered and enforced for many of the lesser and petty crimes.

Let each one of us pray for and think of those prisoners in our filthy and inadequate jails around the country when we have access to comfortable beds at night, clean water, healthy food and the joy of just being able to walk in Zimbabwe's spectacular sunshine. Surely, a just and compassionate God will judge those who are responsible for this deeply unacceptable state in our prisons and the injustice of some of our laws and the abuse of our legal and penal system. – NM, by e-mail

Post published in: Letters to the Editor

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