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Government sits on Zomba Prison recommendation

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Government’s decision to ignore a 1997 Inspectorate of Prisons’ condemnation of Zomba Central Prison as unfit for human habitation is risking lives of inmates being housed at the facility.

Authorities have since admitted government is not ready with alternatives once the facility is completely abandoned 19 years down the line.

While Inspectorate of Prisons Chairperson, Justice Ken Manda, says it was a suggestion, the 2015 Malawi Human Rights Report speaks volumes of the proposal.

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“The Zomba Central Prison was condemned as unfit for human habitation by the Prisons Inspectorate in 1997 but [remains] in use,” reads the report.

But Manda admitted that the situation in prisons is much dire now.

“Looking at the situation in prisons at the moment, we cannot say that the facility should be closed. We are already in a situation where prisons are congested.

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“Recommendations have to be practical. You can take the recommendation but what happens to the prisoners that are there? It’s not that the structure will collapse on the inmates if it is still solid enough, it still has some years until we find alternatives,” Manda said.

Zomba Central Prison was built for a maximum capacity of 800 but it holds about 2,600 prisoners.

Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Home Affairs and Internal Security, Beston Chisamile, has said apart from building withholding cells in other prisons that can take up inmates that were supposed to be taken up by the facility in Zomba, government is depending on the K10 billion Chitedze Maximum Prison Project as an alternative for a maximum as well as a means of decongesting prisons.

But the project has stalled and its completion is uncertain three years after the first phase was completed.

Only a few staff houses have been erected due to resource challenges.

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