Minister of Home Affairs and Internal Security Grace Chiumia says some harsh conditions prisoners face, including eating a single meal per day and being locked in for the night at 2pm, may change courtesy of public sector reforms.
The minister gave the assurance in the National Assembly in Lilongwe on Thursday in response to a number of questions posed by members of Parliament (MPs).
In their questions, the legislators warmed up to the prisoners, pleading that government effects new conditions that lean more towards reforming, rather than harshly punishing inmates.
The MPs devoted nearly 40 minutes of question-time to pressing Chiumia and Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu to outline reforms being made towards more humane prison conditions.
In response, Chiumia said the age-old practice of feeding all prisoners one meal per day was being reviewed because some inmates who are HIV positive or who are on tuberculosis treatment need a balanced diet that demands more and better meals.
She said: “We are already trying to provide special meals for such patients.”
The minister appealed to the MPs to make food donations to the prisons, to supplement the limited food prisoners have due to congestion and budgetary constraints.
Chiumia said the query on the indignity of locking in the inmates for the night as early as 2pm had already been voiced and discussed many times before. She pledged to follow up on the matter.
In his question, Dowa East MP Richard Chimwendo Banda (Malawi Congress Party-MCP) said it is a life-threatening crisis if patients suffering from HIV and Aids and tuberculosis are also restricted to only a single meal per day.
Immediate-past vice-president Khumbo Kachali, who is legislator for Mzimba South West (People’s Party-PP), said even the other inmates without special needs “deserve to be treated as human beings” by providing them more meals and an adjustment to their early lock-in time.
The MPs urged the government to do more to develop the various skills among the inmates, to make them feed themselves and earn money for prisons and themselves in more technical jobs.
MP for Kasungu East, Madalitso Fred Kazombo (MCP), said inmates should be offered more land for promoting their proven potential to feed themselves and others.
Blantyre North MP Francis Phiso (Democratic Progressive Party-DPP) suggested that prisons should be given preference in securing contracts for both menial jobs like grass-cutting and more sophisticated work like vehicle repairs and construction of school blocks.
Mzimba Solola legislator Jacob Hara (MCP) said prisons can utilise inmates like lawyers and bricklayers to win contracts which will see the prisons, and the prisoners, not being starved for income.
Chiumia sparked laughter when she stressed that the legislators need to be the first to demand that through a special arrangement where inmates service their vehicles or are given niches to carry out construction work in their constituencies once the reforms and modifications kick in.
On his part, Tembenu said his ministry is actively consulting with stakeholders like the judiciary, the police and prison officials on decongesting prisons, partly by having less people held in remand cells, pardoning reformed inmates, granting bail to suspects awaiting trial and letting those convicted of minor crimes to serve jail terms through home-based community work.n