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Crisis in prisons

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Government’s decision to cut down on funding to the country’s prisons over the past six years has culminated into a precarious food and health situation in the reformatory centres.

Documents sourced from Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) show that government’s allocation against what was requested since 2009 to 2014 has dropped by 37.2 percent.

This, according to experts has exposed the 13,000 inmates in the country’s 28 prison facilities to hazardous living conditions.

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In the 2012/13 financial year, only K217,541,138 was provided to the prisons, representing 19.34 percent of what the prisons requested while in 2009/10 the prisons were given K29,842,150 against the requested K68, 124,663.

This has also affected prisoners’ diet and medical care, or with clothing as well as cell supplies as required by the Malawi Constitution and law.

According to Medecins Sans Frontiers Deputy Head of Mission to Malawi, Nicolette Jackson, prison clinics are not adequately supplied by government with the essential medical drugs that can deliver this service.

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“This is due to huge cuts in prison health sector funding by the government. This in itself poses a lot of threats to the health of prisoners in Malawi.

“There are severe gaps in the supply of drugs particularly at Chichiri and Maula prisons where we are working. There are enough drugs for tuberculosis and HIV but there are massive gaps in primary health care,” she says.

She also bemoaned shortage of trained personnel in prison clinics.

“The prison clinics are headed by clinicians who only have basic medical training but do not have all the necessary expertise to deal with all medical issues in the prisons.

This means that the facilities depend on the 90 percent drugs and health personnel that are provided by MSF.

Jackson said prisoners were at the receiving end of the underfunding in prisons and that there is need for urgent boost to the prison allocation both from the donor community and the government.

“We do not intend to be working in those prisons for good. There is need for a longer term sustainable solution if things are to improve,” said Jackson.

Meanwhile, food shortage has also hit the prisons with latest information indicating that in some of the facilities inmates are going for three days without food.

“Inmates are going for days without food due to funding cut. Most facilities including Chichiri and Zomba prisons have not settled debts with their supplies and that is why most of them are refusing to give those supplies. On the other hand the only alternative, Admarc, is refusing to sell to the facilities maize on credit.

Jackson corroborated the information saying that the food shortage has also affected the health service delivery.

“Chichiri Prison is one of the affected facilities and this resulted in starvation among inmates during mid March when for almost a day, the facility only had two bags of maize to feed 1,800 inmates.

“The only people that ate that day were inmates with tuberculosis and HIV infections. This forced the prison service to seek additional funding from treasury,” said Jackson.

Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Jean Kalilani, attributed the situation to the increase in the number of inmates in the 28 facilities.

“The main problem that we see is the increasing number of inmates,” Kalirani said yesterday without giving further response claiming she was in a meeting.

Treasury Spokesperson Nations Msowoya admitted that funding challenges are a common scenario in most government departments.

“We, however, are engaging those struggling departments on the best way of managing the little they get. We are talking to prisons to make the most out of the farm land they have to produce enough to feed themselves despite the government funding,” said Msowoya.

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