In an effort to respond to concerns over congestion and other human rights abuses in the country’s prison, the Malawi Government has moved in and has embarked on a project to construct a new prison in Chitedze, Lilongwe.
As far back as 2001 and as late as 2020 global human rights bodies have been raising an alarm on the conditions of the country’s prison with congestion being one of the major issues.
In 2001 Amnesty International (AI) raised concerns about Malawi’s inability to prevent the massive congestion. The AI report specifically mentioned that this congestion leads to other human rights abuses such as increased rape and sexual abuse of juvenile prisoners.
AI German chapter lodged formal written complaints with Malawi authorities condemning such systematic abuse of juvenile prisoners mainly at Malawi’s largest prison, the Zomba Maximum Prison, and a series of smaller prisons.
In 2019, a report from the Inspectorate of Prisons revealed the Malawi Prison Service was failing to execute its rehabilitative role, while the courts were failing to exercise their sentence review powers in time.
In the report it was also found that Malawi prisons and police cells across the country are faced with problems of poor sanitation, poor diet, overcrowding,
prisoner abuse, poor ventilation, detention without charge beyond 48 hours, understaffing, prison staff corruption, and insufficient prisoner rehabilitation such as education and vocational training.
The report also talked about Overcrowding and malnutrition remained problems.
According to the report the Malawi Prison Service reported a total prison population of 14,500 in a space with a designed holding capacity of 7,000.
In 2020, US Department of State Human Rights Report also revealed that prison and detention center conditions remained harsh and potentially life threatening due to overcrowding and poor sanitation; inadequate food, potable water, heating, ventilation, lighting, and health care; and torture.
Despite such condemnation nothing happened.
However, the new Tonse Administration led by President Dr Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera has recognised the importance of decongesting the prisons and safeguarding the rights of the prisoners.
*As a step towards correcting the situation, few months ago Minister of Homeland Security Jean Sendeza toured Maula and Chichiri Prisons to appreciate the situation.*
Few months down the line, her Ministry has called for tenders for the construction of the new Chitedze Prison.
*According to Minister Sendeza, the construction of the new facility is a move to decongest the Prisons in the country.*
Sendeza is on record having told the media plans to decongest the Malawi Prisons by building other prison holding cells and forgive those serving sentences but with minor cases.
Sendeza said it is sad to note high numbers of Prisoners being held in our prisons.
“We need to to pardon some of prisoners especially those with minor cases such as those found stealing chickens , goats and other minor cases this will help to decongest our prisons,” she said.
Chief Commissioner of prisons in Malawi, Wandika Phiri is also on record having complained to the Ministers of overcrowding.
She said the initial capacity of prisoners in Malawi is 7,000 but she said currently the Prisons are holding 14, 648.
The problem of congestion came to the fore at the pick of COVID 19 with the Malawi Prisons Chief, observing that the overcrowding brought best practices of fighting corona virus in disally.