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Starvation sentence

Prison Department gets K1.3 billion for fiscal year

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Chimwemwe Shaba

Since the Penal Code of Malawi, which commenced on April 1 1930, started working, judicial officers have recognised that “all imprisonment shall be with or without hard labour in the discretion of the court”.

This means, while sharing the same cell, some inmates can be serving jail time with hard labour while others may be passing days in the shed, away from direct sunlight.

However, the Government of Malawi seems not to care about whether one is serving a custodial sentence with hard labour or not, let alone that one is on remand, with revelations that, in the 2022- 23 national budget, it has allocated K213 per prisoner per day. The recommended amount, which was even applicable before the 25 percent devaluation of the Kwacha earlier this year, is K500.

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This, claims the Malawi Prison Service, is negatively affecting the livelihoods of inmates.

In effect, this means prisoners are sentenced to “starve” as opposed to serving a jail term.

The development has riled parliamentary committees of legal affairs, and social community affairs, as well as Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) officials who engaged prison officials at Malawi Prison headquarters in Zomba Wednesday.

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Assistant Commissioner of the Prison Department Harrings Nyalubwe said in the 2022-23 financial year, they received K1.3 billion, as opposed to the K2.8 billion they proposed.

As of October 26 2022, Malawi had 16,649 prisoners.

With an allocation of K1.3 billion, this means every prisoner is allocated K6,505 per month, which further translates to about K213 per prisoner per day.

This is way below the amount of money a single person subsists on per day outside prison.

According to Centre for Social Concern, the cost of living per household of six people is K307,000, which translates to K51,167 per person per month and K1,705 per day.

National Statistical Office indicates that food and non-food inflation rates are at 33.7 and 18.3 percent, respectively. The National month to month inflation rate for September 2022 stood at 2.2 percent.

The food inflation rate, on the other hand, is at 3.4 percent while non-food inflation rate is at 0.7 percent, with the urban month-to-month inflation rate pegged at 1.8 percent.

Nyalubwe said funding constraints are negatively affecting the livelihoods of inmates, especially those that are on antiretroviral treatment (ART) and tuberculosis medication.

‘‘Inadequate funding is greatly affecting us. As you know, we are at the receiving end, [and] getting less than estimated, which means we will continue to have problems, especially with prisoners that are sick. What we need is to have enough funding,” he said.

According Nyalubwe, funding challenges often lead to food inadequacy, which puts those on ART, tuberculosis treatment and the elderly at risk.

Last week, inmates at Zomba Central Prison went without running water for over four days.

The development comes at a time most of the country’s prisons have been hit by the problem of food shortage, a development prison officials attribute to food suppliers’ reluctance to buy food at prison set prices.

Two weeks ago, Malawi Prison Service spokesperson Chimwemwe Shaba indicated that the Prison Department would exhaust its budget before the end of the financial year if it went by food prices offered by suppliers.

In a separate interview, Chairperson for the Parliamentary Committee on Social and Community Affairs Savel Kafwafwa said they would ensure that funding issues are discussed in the National Assembly.

“If funding issues are not addressed, they will worsen the human rights situation in prisons, thereby depriving prisoners of constitutionally guaranteed rights,” Kafwafwa said.

MHRC Director for Civil and Political Rights Peter Chisi also deplored the situation, describing it as an infringement on prisoners’ rights.

“It is imperative that the government should act with speed on the issues,” he said.

Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance Monitoring and Evaluation Manager Siphiwe Malihera urged Parliament to act on the issue so that prisoners’ rights are respected.

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