Prisoners in the country will start enjoying conjugal rights with their spouses if a recommendation by the Special Law Commission on the Review of the Prisons Act gets enacted into a law.
This was disclosed at a consultative meeting held on Thursday in Mzuzu aimed at getting views from various stakeholders to come up with a new Prisons Act that would be in tandem with the current realities.
The law in Malawi does not allow prisoners to have conjugal rights with their spouses. But the commission has suggested that in principle, a gradual introduction of enjoyment of conjugal rights by prisoners could serve as a way of rewarding good behaviour and preparation of prisoners for re-integration into the society.
“However, the Commission hastens to add that there would be need to introduce strict conditions in order to avoid challenges that could affect enjoyment of the right,” said Commissioner Rev. Joda Mbewe when he presented findings of the commission on conditions of confinement of prisoners in the areas of contact with the outside world; conjugal rights and sexual abuse in prisons.
“Such conditions could include awareness of rules and regulations of visitation to prisoners on admission, creation of procedures for allowing and denying visitors access to the institutions, placing restrictions on the age of a visitor and degree of relationship to the prisoner, provision of a copy of a prisoner’s approved visitor list to the prisoner and his or her responsibility to notify all visitors of the rules and regulations of visitation,” said Mbewe.
Other proposed conditions are that the prisoner should have good behaviour, be hardworking and not a security threat.
“Additionally, another critical condition is the provision of infrastructure and facilities to enable prisoners exercise their rights,” said Mbewe.
According to the paper, conjugal visitation programmes were first implemented in Mississippi prisons in the United States of America but were successful in other states such as California and New York.
“It is, therefore, suggested that conjugal visits give inmates the opportunity to keep the family unit together and by doing so, inmates are easier to manage while serving their sentences,” said Mbewe.
The Commission also found gaps in Malawi’s Constitution regarding communication in prisons.
Mbewe said although regulation 144 expressly provides for letters as a mode of communication for prisoners, there is no legal provision regulating the use of newspapers, television, and mobile phones that are currently being used in prisons.
Mbewe also said there is no provision to deal with visitors who speak to prisoners in foreign languages that are not understood by prison authorities.
Commissioner for Prisons responsible for operations, Masauko Wiscot, welcomed the review process of the Prisons Act saying the current one is old and not in tandem with the present century.
Special Law Commission chairperson, High Court Judge Justice Ken Manda, said there was need to review the Prisons Act because it had stayed long without any major changes since April 23 1956 when it was enacted.
“The Special Law Commission considers the review of the Prison Act as a critical one as it has great significance in the reforms within the criminal justice system. Further, overcrowded prisons have been deemed as a breeding ground for diseases which might be spread to the wider community. Thus there are technical issues which the law raises as well as human rights considerations which have to be balanced with varied interests and the economic realities within Malawi,” said Manda.
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