A group of Human Rights Organizations is appealing to the government to consider decongesting prisons by releasing female inmates with children, the sick, old and those that have served the majority of their sentence, citing poorly-managed response to the threat of Covid-19.
The organizations, led by Legal Action Charity Reprieve UK, include CHREAA, PASI, Sant’ Egidio, Women Lawyers Association and Irish Rule of Law.
Social Justice Advocate Alexious Kamangila, a reprieve fellow who also volunteers for the Community of Sant’ Egidio has, in a statement, called upon the government and all stakeholders to act urgently and diligently on the matter.
Kamangila said civilization of a nation is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable, including prisoners.
On this, he complained that women in prisons across the country who were previously living in safer, less overcrowded conditions than men have now been transferred to prisons hundreds of kilometres away from their original place of detention to make space for isolation centers for new remandees.
“We urge the government to decongest prisons, not only because of Covid-19 threat, but because it is a legal requirement to do so as per the Gable Masangano decision of 2007. Our prisons are over 200% over- populated due to, among others, unlawful detention and slow pace of trials,” said Kamangila.
He therefore took to task the State President Dr. Lazarus Chakwera for not pardoning inmates on July 6th as it is the tradition.
Counsel Tadala Chinkhwezule, President of women Lawyers Association concurred with Kamagila by saying “we are concerned with the fact that numerous female prisoners have been moved away from their families without guarantee of how their needs such as food and sanitary requirements will be catered for.”
It is revealed, in the statement, that a group of 49 women formerly held at Maula prison, Lilongwe, has been transferred to as far as Mzuzu. Another group of 17 inmates from the same Maula were relocated to Kasungu, plus two to Dedza, and amongst the women was a 17-year-old pregnant girl (now released on bail) and a 70-year-old elderly woman on remand.
Facts are also that Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) and medical stuff is often lacking in the prison clinics, making it difficult to ably fight the deadly virus.