A rise in Covid-19 cases among inmates and warders has prompted an emergency review ordered by President Lazarus Chakwera, with planned pardons of petty and vulnerable inmates and establishment of additional isolation centres to curb the spread of the contagion.
Minister of Homeland Security Richard Chimwendo Banda in an interview yesterday said Chakwera has already pardoned the first inmate to test positive and has ordered further reviews.
He said as of yesterday, 51 inmates had tested positive for Covid-19 in Blantyre, 10 in Nkhata Bay as well as 20 prison staff.
Said Chimwendo Banda: “So we are looking at vulnerability, age and crime committed. We have come up with a committee to make recommendations on how to decongest prisons. The President will make the final decision and review recommendations case by case.
“We are meeting again tomorrow but meanwhile, we are distributing PPE to officers and inmates. All who are sick are being taken to hospital.”
On his part, Ministry of Health chief of health services Dr Charles Mwansambo said in an interview the ministry is working with its Homeland Security counterpart to strategise on the prison situation
Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance executive director Victor Mhango, whose organisation has been advocating for robust measures to protect inmates and prison workers, yesterday said a release of workers through pardons and remittance of sentences could save the situation.
He said: “Particular attention should go to inmates who are terminally ill regardless of the sentence or inmates who have served a substantial part of their sentence, and inmates serving time for minor offences. We also appeal that sufficient test kits should be provided to prisons.”
On Friday, infectious disease specialist Dr. Titus Divala said due to poor living conditions, inmates have a greater burden of the disease than the general population, which means their risk of Covid-19 infections or deaths is high.
Following the first reported cases last week, some prison rights civil society organisations asked Chakwera to consider pardoning vulnerable prisoners.
In September last year, a Malawi Inspectorate of Prisons Report urged government to decongest the country’s prisons on the basis that they were holding 14 778 inmates against a capacity of 5 000.