From November 2011, visits to district prisons by High Court judges has seen about 5 200 prisoners, who committed minor offences, being released following reviews and confirmation of their sentences, the Judiciary has confirmed.
Meanwhile, the Malawi Law Society (MLS) has hailed the new initiative by the judiciary, saying it would significantly help to decongest correctional facilities which are currently holding close to 14 000 inmates against a capacity of 5 610.
Under the five-year project being funded by European Union (EU) and Britain’s Department for International Development (DfID), an average of 325 prisoners are being released in every three months.
In March, quoting Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (Chreaa), our sister newspaper Weekend Nation reported that 8 693 inmates were being kept illegally following Judiciary’s failure to confirm their sentences.
But Chreaa executive director Victor Mhango said in an interview on Friday that the figure might not be the same now because the court camps which the High Court judges were conducting were bearing fruit.
Mhango, however, could not give the new record as they were still compiling the figures.
Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula in an interview on Wednesday said EU is funding the Judiciary K1.2 million per month for court camps where a High Court judge goes to a district prison and reviews minor cases and make decisions there and then.
As prescribed by the Criminal Procedure and Evidence Code (CP & EC) all sentences imposed by lower courts are supposed to be reviewed by the High Court within a set time as prescribed by the law, but some prisoners remain incarcerated for years without their sentences being reviewed, and authorities have mostly attributed this to high workload.
Mvula said in most of cases being handled, the judges are establishing that inmates are spending more than two years, one year or six months beyond periods their sentences ought to have been reviewed and confirmed by the High Court, according to CP&EC.
Mvula said: “In some situations, inmates are being committed to community service or released straight away. By the end of this project, in November this year, we expect that 6 500 inmates would have been released.”
Through the project, 46 inmates at Zomba Central Maximum Prison were last week released, according to insiders there, while in Nkhotakota, 33 inmates were released, according to Mvula.
He said the project was also significantly reducing expenses correctional facilities spend on keeping inmates, for example, food and medication.
MLS secretary Khumbo Soko said in a response to a questionnaire on Thursday that any lawful step that results in decongesting prisons was a welcome development.
He said the prison visits by judges were a step in a right direction, but there was a need to scrupulously follow the law and ensure that all cases that, by law, were required to be confirmed by the High Court, are confirmed.
As early as March, correctional facilities across the country that are supposed to hold 5 610 inmates were holding 13 878 inmates, according to Statistical Data for Prisoners compiled by Prisons Inspectorate. n