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Prison service facing glitches

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MALAWI could be sitting on a ticking security time bomb should the Malawi Prison Service (MPS) continue to face challenges in recapturing inmates who escape from the country’s prisons.

Despite being one of the country’s crucial law enforcing and security agencies the MPS, we have established, has challenges which include lack of proper equipment to help in the search and recapturing of escapees.

The Sunday Times has it on authority that in the last four years 14 inmates escaped from Mzuzu Prison but only six were recaptured representing 42 percent success rate.

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The figures could be equally alarming at national level if Mzuzu Prison which has in the first five months of 2017 already lost four inmates could be taken as a case study.

This according to security experts poses danger to national security.

Prison sources that we have talked to say that the prison break episodes experienced in the country’s reformatory facilities are due to among other reasons lack of funding for purchase of proper equipment to enhance security.

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In some instances inmates have attacked prison officers on duty on their forceful way out to freedom, taking advantage of the vulnerability of the defenseless warders.

Under normal circumstances, every prison warder is supposed to be armed with a rifle but the rifle-officer ratio remains negligible.

“It is a fact the service is understaffed, but even the few officers are operating in very life threatening environment because some of the inmates are hardcore criminals who are always scheming their way out to freedom,” said an officer on condition of anonymity.

The officer said most prisons across the country are overcrowded and thus cautioned of a violent outbreak if some of the inside problems are not dealt with.

Adding: “Apart from the vulnerability of the security system, there will always be a growing urge among inmates to abscond custody in as long as problems like lack of space, food, clothing and beddings still exist.”

Mzuzu Prison spokesperson MacBeth Wasambo confirmed of the figures at his station but insisted security remains tight.

He, however, admitted of transport problems saying the only available patrol vehicle sometimes runs out of fuel thus posing challenges in time of such uncertainties.

“There still is as an on-going operation to trace and recapture the other escapees who would be brought to book for fleeing lawful custody. Otherwise we are committed to work,” said Wasambo whose station holds 636 detainees.

Last September four inmates escaped from Maula Prison in Lilongwe.

Commenting on the matter Mzuzu based retired security expert Mbachi Mlowoka decried the situation saying it poses danger to national security threat.

“Government has to take the prison service seriously and priotize its needs for smooth operations. The security of the nation to a large extent depends on the functionality of the prisons service. Prisoners on the loose are capable of doing anything which can endanger lives of people in the society and the nation at large,” he said.

National spokesperson of the MPS Smart Maliro and officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs could not pick our calls after several attempts.

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