Zimbabwe has pardoned at least 2, 000 prisoners in a move to decongest the prisons and improve the living standards of those remaining in custody.
The government of Zimbabwe has suffered economic meltdown over the past years, and the current drought is suffocating the country even further.
The recent development only shows that Zimbabwe is falling, and falling first at that.
First, it was the sale of its wildlife in a bid to save the animals from a devastating drought that has hit the country causing water and food shortages.
Then due to the hyperinflation that hit the country in 2009, the Southern African nation has had to deal with the tough economic crisis. To do so, Zimbabwe introduced bond notes to salvage the economy.
Now, a government gazette issued by one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, President Robert Mugabe has given amnesty to thousands of prisoners. The pardon is targeted to all women who are not on death row or serving life sentences. This also includes all male convicts under 18, irrespective of their crime; prisoners over 60 who have completed two-thirds of their sentence; and prisoners who are terminally ill. Those who will not get to enjoy the freedom include males convicted of rape, armed robbery or murder, a government statement said.
According to finance minister Patrick Chinamasa, the government consumes 83 percent of its revenue to finance civil servant’s salaries. Collapsed exports brought about by failed land-reform program, has caused widespread shortages of cash. This has forced the country to abandon its own currency in favor of the US dollar and other international currencies.
Zimbabwe’s Prison and Correctional Services spokeswoman Priscilla Mthembo said up to 2,000 inmates would benefit from Mugabe’s pardon thus decongesting prisons which hold about 20,000 inmates, more than their capacity of 17,000, causing congestion and shortages of food, uniforms, and other basic utilities.
“Our 46 prisons nationwide are overpopulated. We have a holding capacity of 17 000, but we have been holding over 19 900 prisoners,” she said.
“This shows that we are overpopulated with over 16 percent, and this Presidential pardon will go a long way in decongesting our prisons and facilitating good living conditions for those that remain behind.”
In 2013, it was reported that at least 100 prisoners died across the country’s prison facilities for what was termed as poor nutrition and hunger. Last March, three prisoners died from injuries sustained during a violent protest over food shortages.
While prisoners and their families were happy to be reunited, prison activists despite appreciating the efforts, said the whole arrangement was disorganized.
“We were never informed, the relatives were never informed, and reintegration isn’t an easy process,” Peter Mandiyanike, executive director of Prison Fellowship, an organization that advocates for prisoners’ rights, told Bloomberg.
“The amnesty is welcome, and we’re grateful, but we should have been consulted because some of them don’t have clothes, they don’t have money for bus fare home,” he said. “Some have been in prison so long they’ve grown old, and are afraid to go home.”
The government should have considered reintegration of the inmates before releasing them to a public that might not accept them. Some of the prisoners have been away from the community for so long, that they do not know how to adapt to it, and now they are out expected to live in it. It is a good initiative, but as the activists argue, it could have been done better for the greater good of the society.
On her part, Mthembo called on Zimbabweans to “embrace togetherness and accept the inmates, giving them a second chance at life through supporting them in different endeavors to earn a better living.”
She also urged the inmates “not to take the pardon for granted,” instead, they should go out and exhibit the spirit of Ubuntu and respect the laws of the country.”
Image credit: AFP
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