The Malawi Prison Inspectorate has decried the speed at which prison reforms are implemented which results in increased abuse of prisoners’ rights.
Speaking after the Inspectorate presented this year’s report, one of the members Victor Mhango noted that although his committee has been presenting recommendations to Parliament for the past seven years, none of the reports have been tabled and debated in the august House.
“We have been submitting reports to Parliament but despite the fact that the Inspectorate is a constitutional body, the issues are not deliberated in parliament,” Mhango said. “Which is why every year we seem to be making the same recommendations because the problems are not being addressed and so they keep coming up every year.”
Mhango added that the Inspectorate has long advocated for a self-sustainable model for the prisons where the inmates could be used as labour to produce food for the facilities.
“But this can only be implemented if it was discussed in Parliament,” he said.
He disclosed that the Inspectorate’s work is further compounded by the lack of support from government.
“We do not receive any subversions from the government which is an omission. Besides that, we have no secretariat and we rely on donor funding for our operations,” he said.
However, Mhango said the new legal affairs committee of Parliament has shown interest in engaging the Inspectorate in addressing some of their challenges.
“We are optimistic that the legal affairs committee will help us because they have shown a huge interest in engaging with us,” he said.
This year’s report followed a visit by the Inspectorate of Prisons of all the prison facilities and police cells across the country in February, May, August 2020 and February 2021.
The findings of the inspections reveal recurrent general problems including poor sanitation, poor diet, overcrowding, abuse of prisoners, poor ventilation, low staffing, abuse of pre-trial custody limit, poor provision of health services, inadequate uniforms and rehabilitation and the current being COVID-19 pandemic.
Section 169 of the Constitution which mandates the Inspectorate to, among other thing, monitor the conditions, administration, and general functioning of penal institutions; investigate any matters connected to penal institutions; visit all institutions within the Malawi Prisons Service with or without notice; and propose legal reforms to the Minister responsible for prisons.
During the inspection tour the Inspectorate found that the physical structures of most of the prisons are in dilapidated state posing a serious danger to the lives of the prisoners and the prison officers themselves.
The Inspectorate also discovered that the prison’s holding capacity was overcrowded by 278 percent beyond the designed capacity.
“This amounts to a violation of the right to freedom from torture, cruel and inhuman treatment,” the Inspectorate said in the report.
The Inspectorate noted that the failure to provide adequate food and medical care is a serious breach of national and international legal and policy instruments and amounts to a breach of human rights.
It added that the educational system in all the prisons leaves a lot to be desired and amounts to a serious breach of the right to education.
“There are serious human rights breaches in the manner in which the criminal justice processes are being applied to the prisoners. The way the system is being operated by the courts, police and the legal practitioners is almost criminal in its own right and further exacerbates the vulnerable position of the prisoners,” the report reads.