Mzuzu Prison is subjecting juvenile offenders to “indescribable tragedy” and rights activists have recommended urgent intervention from government to save their lives, according to a recent inspectorate report.
Findings by the Inspectorate of Prisons also found an awkward set-up of the young offenders section which endangers their lives at the prison.
The report, titled Prisoners Health and Staff Welfare, submitted to Parliament in August 2016, shows that young offenders defeacate in plastic bags. And after defeacating in the bags, according to the report, they throw the human waste out of the window and pick up the same in the morning to dispose of in the toilets.
Further, during the inspectorate’s physical inspection, it was also discovered that the young offenders’ cell had a bucket into which they urinated, according to the report.
Reads the report: “We found this arrangement unacceptable, especially since most of the times the human waste has to be passed through other inmates before it is thrown out of the window.
“It goes without saying that this human waste is being handled by these young offenders without any protective gear which again poses a serious risk of spreading diseases.”
Like several others nationwide, the Mzuzu Prison structure is aged and was not purpose-built to contend with recent demands as it has no separate cells for inmates on remand and convicts.
The prison has a young offenders’ section which is already congested, but is located next to one of the cells hosting adults.
According to the inspectorate, a fence separates the two structures but anyone can slip through as the prison dispensary is housed in a cell within the section.
Thus, the inspectorate proposes construction of a brick fence around the young offenders section and relocation of the dispensary.
Malawi Prisons Services (MPS) spokesperson Smart Maliro was not available yesterday for comment.
But executive director of Eye of the Child, Maxwell Matewere, has demanded an urgent intervention from government in order to protect the young offenders’ lives.
He said the current development was saddening and it was high time government started reforming its laws on juvenile justice.
“We have been talking about these things for quite some time. Despite voluntarily making commitments and enacting laws in Parliament on
youths the same government is violating them.
“It is high time we pushed government to reform its laws on the administration of juvenile justice. There are several areas that endanger children in our laws,” Matewere said
Centre for Human Rights, Advice and Advocacy (Chreaa) executive director Victor Mhango said Mzuzu Prison was not fit to harbour young offenders.
He said: “Actually, all the prisons are basically there to torture prisoners and not remodel them as is supposed to be. The young offenders are not treated like human beings and, unfortunately, nobody seems to care about the situation and this ferments the spread of communicable diseases.”
Apart from the appalling young offenders’ situation, Mzuzu Prison capacity is also an issue of concern.
The prison, which has two cells measuring six metres by 12 metres, has a recommended capacity of 200 inmates but at the time of the inspection it had 446.
This provides the inmates with no room to lie down but sleep in a sitting position.
In recent years, the Inspectorate of Prisons has condemned several structures, including Zomba Central Prison, as not fit for human habitation. However, the structures continue to hold inmates to date. n