PRESIDENT Edgar Lungu’s Government wants to transform the prisons in Zambia into habitable places for in-mates, Home Affairs Deputy Minister Panji Kaunda has said.
Meanwhile, some prisoners have asked Government to release more terminally sick inmates to decongest the prisons.
Col Kaunda said it was the wish of President Lungu, who previously served as Home Affairs Minister, to transform the Prisons Services in Zambia.
He said prisons were no longer places of punishment but corrective Schools or Colleges aimed at reforming the in-mates into better citizens.
Col Kaunda was speaking in Livingstone on Monday when he addressed male prisoners inside the Livingstone Central Prison.
“The prisons won’t be reformed overnight but we will surely do something to reform them. We have a programme of building new prisons facilities and new cells even here in Livingstone.
“These cells will be built by yourselves (prisoners) using your acquired skills so that you live in the new facilities comfortably. We believe the building of more cells will alleviate the problems of congestion in prisons,” he said.
Col Kaunda also apologised on the behalf of the Government on the current poor conditions in prisons saying the previous Government did not do much to improve the facilities.
“On behalf of the Government, we apologise on the conditions of prisons today. You will soon be living in better places and become better persons by the time you leave this place.
“The Patriotic Front (PF) Government is determined to change the conditions of prisons including the way prison officers live. Be patient with us and things will change. Bear with us for time being and things will be different soon,” he said.
He noted that most prisons in Zambia fell short of what they were are supposed to be looking like in the country.
“There is no way you can say you will be better citizens if you continue living the way you have been living currently.
“Before the end of this year, I will come here in Livingstone to commission the cells while your diet will also change. It is not gimmick to please you but a serious matter,” he said.
And addressing female prisoners at the same prison, Col Kaunda said jail was not meant to discard people.
“Jail is now a school. From here, you must come out with an appropriate life skill. If you did not know how to cook, you will be taught on how to cook.
“have seen the cells are not enough and toilets are not okay. The prisons department is making a better cell and you will relocate by the end of this month,” he said.
Livingstone Central Prison assistant superintendent and deputy office in charge Ivory Musumali said the prison currently had 754 inmates from the capacity of 250.
Mr Musumali said the prison was facing congestion and that the construction of a female cell, which would help t decongest the inmates, was almost complete.
“We are also constructing a mini-Hospital which is also nearing completion. In terms of challenges, we have inadequate transport, congestion, lack of uniforms for inmates and slow rate of disposal of cases at the courts,” Mr Musumali said.
And a male prisoner Davy Kaunda, who has spent his life in the same prison for 15 years, asked Government to release more terminally sick inmates to decongest the prisons.
Mr Kaunda asked Col Kaunda to correct the challenges affecting prisoners as apologising on behalf of the Government on the current status of prisons was not enough.
“The Government is saying the solution to congestion in prisons is to build more facilities. This is not a good solution.
“The best solution is to release terminally sick people and also those who have acquired skills in prisons so that they go out and use their skills acquired in prisons,” he said.
Mr Kaunda also wondered why Ministers and other high profile persons were quickly released after being jailed.
“These Ministers are failing to cope up with their stay in prison due to inhabitable conditions and since they are wealthy, they easily get bails and leave the prisons.
“What are they running away which they failed to correct when they were in power? We are still slaves in our own country regardless of what crime we committed and we are asking that you look into our plight,” Mr Kaunda said.
He also noted that former prisoners were being discriminated in society while the slowness of trials in courts also contributed to congestion.
Another prisoner, Chris Siantwala asked Government to start counting the day and night as separate days that prisoners spend to reduce on congestion.
“In other countries in Africa, they count day and night as two days but here it is just one day and hence congestion is increasing.
“Somehow, the Government is contributing to congestion. Let’s also start counting day and night like in other countries,” Mr Siantwala said.