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Little improvements in prison food security

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Despite the Prison Inspectorate highlighting that cases of malnourishment continue to rise in prisons, there are pointers that it may be a long way before the country’s prisons achieve a state of food sufficiency, a rights advocacy body has warned.

Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance Executive Director, Victor Mhango, said in an interview on Friday that more needs to be done to ensure that prisoners’ nutrient needs are met.

“For months, reports have indicated that prisoners have been suffering from food shortages. In recent years, the situation has worsened, with many prisoners under the state’s care currently facing severe malnourishment. Section 42 (1) (b) provides for the right to be detained under conditions consistent with human dignity, which shall include at least the provision of reading and writing materials, adequate nutrition and medical treatment at the expense of the state.

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“Though the legal framework safeguards the rights of prisoners, the prison conditions continue to deteriorate and do not conform to the standards set by the Constitution or instruments of international law of which Malawi is a party. The prisons are overcrowded and this ferments the spread of communicable diseases such as tuberculosis and HIV. Zomba [Central] Prison was built in 1935. It was designed for a capacity of 800 and now holds 2,021, over 2.5 times its capacity,” Mhango said.

Mhango added that, apart from congestion, prisoners in Malawi are not provided with adequate diet, adequate medical care, adequate clothing or cell supplies as required by the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi.

Ironically, these violations were highlighted in the case of Gable Masangano versus Attorney General and others [in the High Court of Malawi, Lilongwe District Registry, Constitutional Case No. 15 OF 2007].

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In considering the issues raised in the case, the court held that, though prisoners may have their right to liberty curtailed by reason of lawful incarceration, prisoners retain all other human rights as guaranteed by the Constitution.

The court held that human rights are in fact deeply entrenched in Malawian society and that all public institutions are bound by them, further saying what happens in prisons cannot be considered sacrosanct.

The court went further to say that Prison Regulations do not represent an aspiration for the government to live up to, but instead represent minimum standards for the treatment of prisoners.

Mhango said: “The court rejected the government’s argument that they do not have the minimum resources to comply with the law, holding that lack of resources cannot act as a defence. Because Parliament controls the budget, it must allocate sufficient resources to the Malawi Prison Service (MPS) to comply with the law; otherwise Parliament makes a mockery of its own laws.

“Prisons have potential to feed themselves provided that they are given capital. They have man power. Government should consider investing in prisons.”

MPS spokesperson, Smart Maliro, could not be drawn to comment on the issue as his mobile phone went unanswered for three consecutive days, but he told journalists during a media tour of prisons last year that prisoners were now able to cultivate their own crops.

Meanwhile, some prisons such as Ntchisi have gone a step further in promoting agriculture.

In The Daily Times of June 26, 2017, the Malawi News Agency (Mana) quotes Eston Damiano, who is serving a 10-year jail term at Ntchisi Prison, as saying that he has acquired crop management skills at the institution.

“When I first came here, I could not even manage a vegetable garden or engage in any farming activity. But today, I am in charge of the prison garden together with five colleagues. We are very proud of our contribution here because it is this very food we produce that forms part of the prison diet,” Mana quotes Damiano as saying.

Ntchisi Prison and Byazi Prison in Dowa are among the few reformatory facilities in the country practicing both rain-fed and irrigation farming in the country. According to Malawi News Agency, Ntchisi Prison has a total of 12 hectares of arable land for both crop and livestock production.

Officer-in-Charge for Ntchisi Prison, Superintendent Ben Mthulama, told Mana:

“Most facilities in the country fall short of fulfilling the government requirement of providing three meals a day because of resource constraints. But, here, that is not the case. In the morning, prisoners are served porridge from soya, which we produce ourselves, and have adequate meals for their lunch and supper,” Mthulama boasted.

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