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K10bn maximum security prison project is in limbo

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Three years after the first phase of the K10 billion state-of-the-art maximum security prison at Chitedze in Lilongwe was done, the project has stalled and the completion of the facility is uncertain.

The prison was meant to reduce the worsening congestion in Malawi’s prisons which are currently keeping double their original prisoner capacity.

It was expected that once completed, the prison would be able to accommodate as much as 40,000 inmates, a development which could help mop the excess prisoner population in all the country’s 28 prison facilities.

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This would effectively also enable the country to achieve the internationally recommended two square metre space per prisoner.

Jean Kalirani, who was then speaking as Minister of Home Affairs before she was moved to Ministry of Gender two weeks ago, said the project stopped due to unavailability of resources.

“I have requested for a consolidated report since the project started to see how much has already been spent and the best way possible of continuing with it,” said Kalirani.

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Zomba Central Prison, built in 1935, is the only maximum security prison in the country, holding prisoners with long sentences or serious offences, but human rights activists have condemned it for its poor conditions describing it “a death trap”.

To remedy the situation, close to 300 hectares of land was allocated to the project in 2010 but since then government has only managed to erect a few staff houses under phase one of the project.

A source within the Malawi Prison Service said: “Due to financial hiccups, only a few staff houses have been erected so far but nothing like servant quarters is there. Though construction of such a facility takes a lot of money, resources are slowly trickling for a project of such magnitude.”

In the 2012 / 13 National Budget, Parliament under vote 342 approved K290 million for construction of the prison. This was later revised downwards to K200 million.

The allocation was further reduced in the 2013/14 budget to around K180 million.

The stalling of the project has attracted the attention of human rights groups such as Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC).

The commission said in a written response that the prevailing congestion in prisons is a violation of internationally accepted prison standards.

“According to international prison standards, prisoners ought to be segregated according to age, disabilities and sex. The lack of a maximum prison means prisoners with disabilities are currently accommodated within spaces that do not necessarily accommodate their needs.

“Equally important is the fact that in some instances Malawi Prison Service is unable to separate terminally ill and prisoners with disabilities from the rest,” said MHRC Executive Secretary Grace Malera.

She urged the authorities to demonstrate commitment to the project by ensuring that adequate funds are timely allocated for the completion of this project in Lilongwe.

She said the project has the potential to decongest other prisons such as Mzuzu, Mzimba, Maula, Chichiri and Zomba which are operating way above their capacity.

Malera further said: “In addition to this project the government must also design and construct more cells in existing prisons so that the prisons operate within minimum internationally accepted standards.”

In his article in the book about the courts as structures for protection of the vulnerable, Prison Inspectorate Chairperson Justice Ken Manda said Malawi’s prisons were designed house a population of around 5,000 inmates. But as of 2014, the population stood at 12,566 with 10,470 of those being convicted prisoners.

“In most of the prisons, people are spending their entire sentences sleeping in a sitting position,” wrote Manda.

Manda’s article was titled ‘Overcrowding and its effects on the health of prisoners in Malawi: A role for the Malawi courts?’. It was published in a book that assessed the use of courts by vulnerable people in Malawi, Zambia and Botswana. It was published in January 2015.

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