The prevailing food crisis in the country has not spared the 36 reformatory institutions as latest revelations indicate that prisoners are going days without food.
The sad development comes at time when government has trimmed funding to its ministries and departments including the Malawi Prison Services which has over 13,000 inmates instead of the required holding capacity of 6,500.
The miserable state implies that lives of inmates on antiretroviral therapy treatment and those on tuberculosis medication which requires food before taking drugs will end up developing drug resistance as a result of defaults in the taking of medication.
Prison Inspectorate chairperson Justice Ken Manda confirmed the depressing situation in the cells, attributing it to poor economic situation coupled with budget cuts.
Manda said this has had a huge negative impact on the reformatory institutions. Though Manda was very hopeful that the situation would improve, he described the state of affairs in prisons as critical but was quick to say that the situation applied to all government institutions including hospitals where patients are not served with meals.
“For us we can only hope that things are going to improve in terms of funding,” he said.
When asked where prisoners’ right to food in this situation is placed, he replied: “It’s an obvious fact; they have a right to food like everybody…. but at the same time we have to accept the reality.”
He said the Prison Inspectorate is currently engaging government to see how it can find solutions to the current situation so that at least prisoners get a meal or two a day.
Justice Manda said in this context, government is violating the Gable Masangano court order, delivered some time back that prisoners need to be respected through provision of three meals a day, among others.
He said the Prison Inspectorate will try to push the court to guarantee that the order is enforced.
Manda said it is the prime responsibility of the Prison Inspectorate to make sure that inmates’ health is a priority.
Speaking on Wednesday, MPS deputy spokesperson, Julius Magombo parried away the allegations.
However Magombo said they are just fears that sourcing of maize from their supplies would be difficult next month.
Despite that fact; Magombo conceded that the budget for maize has been depleted due to the rising cost of maize on the local market.
He said the companies that won the tender to supply maize to MPS are failing to fulfill their mandate because the price offered then is not the same prevailing on the market now.
Magombo said most of the suppliers are not willing to supply maize at K10, 000 per 50 kilogramme bag instead want to supply it at K14, 000.
“We have talked to Admarc [Agriculture Development Marketing Corporation] personnel so that they should be supplying maize to our prisons. That will add an advantage to the department because we’ll be buying the grain at a cheaper price,” he said.
Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and assistance (Chreaa) Executive Director Victor Mhango said the government is failing its duty to feed prisoners by underfunding the prison department.
“The budget cuts have also affected the prison. The society and members of parliament are not doing enough to help the situation. The best way is to empower the prison department with capital assets that can help them to open big farms. The prisons are capable to feed themselves and contribute something to the society,” he said.
He said despite the prisoners crimes they are supposed to receive attention.
Mhango said people should learn to forgive and love them because they also belong to the same society.
National coordinator for Paralegal Advisory Service (Pasi), Clifford Msisha, collaborated Mhango’s sentiments saying the only way to avert the situation is to utilise the manpower available in prisons.
“Government has so many competing priorities and the Malawi Prison Service needs to find a way of making themselves sustainable to compliment the funding that goes direct to prison from Treasury.” Msisha explained.
He said if the idle arable land was given to the Prison Department alongside tractors, the department would be able to feed itself than relying on government.
Meanwhile the country has five major reformatory institutions that are overcrowded which include Mzimba, Mzuzu, Zomba, Blantyre and Maula in Lilongwe.
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