The Human Rights Commission (HRC) commends President Edgar Lungu for pardoning 2,984 inmates and granting of unconditional bail to 2,719 remandees.
The pardoning of 2,829 male and 155 female inmates on the eve of Africa Freedom Day is commendable as their right to liberty has been restored. The combined 5,703 number of inmates and remandees that was released yesterday is extremely significant because it will contribute to family and social stability.
The granting of unconditional bail to 2,719 remandees is commendable. The Commission has always been advocating for granting of bail to suspects facing bailable offenses and misdemeanors as has been done by the President. It is hoped that a sustainable and predictable mechanism will be put in place to prescribe bail as a right in order to enhance the rights to liberty and the presumption of innocence until proven or pleaded guilty.
The pardoning of inmates is commendable because in addition to reducing congestion, it will also contribute to social cohesion, reduction of crime and national productivity. The pardoning has provided an opportunity to ex-inmates to utilize their entrepreneurship skills they ex-inmates were learning in the Correctional Facilities and this has potential to contribute to reducing household poverty and hunger as well as a national food.
It should be noted that the conviction of individuals, particularly breadwinners, contributes to family disintegration and contributes to a wide range of social ills such as juvenile delinquency, sexual abuse and other forms of crime by some family members as a coping mechanism in the absence of a breadwinner.
It is also worth noting that the decision by the President under the prerogative of mercy as provided for under Article 97 of the Constitution of Zambia [Amendment] Act No. 2 of 2016 is especially significant during this period when the country is preventing, managing and controlling coronavirus.
The decongestion of Correctional Facilities means that the risk of contracting and spreading the virus in those facilities has been reduced, and that is a commendable executive decision in the fight against COVID 19.
The Commission wishes to also appeal to family members and society at large to accept, welcome and embrace the pardoned inmates because in the first place such inmates came from those families and society and they are back as law-abiding citizens after going through the criminal justice system.
It should be appreciated that released inmates are going to inevitably face serious emotional, psychological and socio-economic challenges during their family and community re-entry and they will need multi-sectoral and specialized counseling and support to help them cope up.
The Commission is aware that the Zambia Correctional Services has been conducting Pre-Relief Counselling to the pardoned inmates to make them aware of the adverse challenges that may face after being released in order to create resilience in them. However, families and society at large have a primary responsibility to accept, welcome and support the pardoned inmates to fully reintegrate and contribute to public safety and the well-being of society at large.
Further, the pardoned inmates must not betray the President’s compassion by reoffending society. Equally, those granted unconditional bail must remain law abiding citizens during the period of being on bail and ensure that they are available at the time they may be required to appear before the court of law.
The Commission is hopeful that the Zambia Correctional Services through its Correctional and Extensional Services will be adequately supported to play their family tracing and tie up, community re-entry and victim-offender mediation and reconciliation services to sustain the positive impact of the measure undertaken by the President.