A recent report has revealed the growing state of hopelessness in Zimbabwean prisons as a large number of prisoners languish without clothes. The impoverished state of the prison system has led to an acute shortage of basic necessities and raised the risk of infectious diseases as prisoners and officers exchange uniforms for court appearances.
The growing lamentable state of the southern African nation’s prisons, revealed in a parliamentary justice committee, is blamed on gross under-funding of Zimbabwe Prison Service (ZPS) which has led to cuts in water, power and other essential supplies. ZPS is now rolling in a staggering US$3 million debt.
“The committee learnt that uniforms for both inmates and officers have
never been adequate (but) the situation was even worse for inmates who
exchange uniforms for their court appearances thereby exposing
themselves to infectious diseases and (the committee also discovered)
that most prisoners were moving around naked,” the report said.
In recent years, Zimbabwe’s 55 prisons have been described as ‘death camps’. Dire prison conditions have turned the cells into breeding grounds for cholera, diarrhea and tuberculosis, compounding the already high HIV rate in a nation where 15,6 percent of adults carry the virus that causes AIDS.
The bedding situation is also said to be particularly bad with prisoners either going without blankets or resorting to sharing the one or two available which are usually threadbare and unwashed.
The report also reveals that prison infrastructure is now in an advanced state of disrepair, a condition that poses a serious security threat. “The infrastructure (is now) a threat to life and security as most of the prisons were constructed in the early 1900s, thus the infrastructure is in an advanced state of disrepair.
“In addition, it was brought to the attention of the committee that out of 22 steam pots at Chikurubi, only 2 are working hence there is an urgent need to modernize the kitchens and replacement of all the cooking and eating utensils as currently prisoners are using lunch boxes brought in by their relatives.”
It is widely believed that the one year old unity government has placed the prison service at the lower rungs of its list of priorities, but Jesse Majoma, deputy justice minister for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), insists that the situation is dire.
“The conditions of the prisons of Zimbabwe are dire. We have a
desperate situation which is characterised by deaths due to malnutrition and complications also arising from malnutrition mainly,” said Jesse Majoma. “The Zimbabwe prison service is not present in any capacity to meet
the needs of the prisoners that are kept by this service”.