Death of an inmate in a scramble for space at Mzuzu Prison on Monday has rekindled calls for lasting measures to lessen overcrowding in the country’s reformatory centres.
The largest prison in the Northern Region was constructed almost 60 years ago to take about 150 inmates, but it now holds up to 600.
The neglected tale of overcrowding reached tragic proportions on Monday night when murder suspect, Muda Mhango, 25, reportedly smacked to death 40-year-old convict Abel Jere in a scramble for sleeping space in a toilet.
Police said they are investigating Mhango for a fresh murder charge, three years after he was remanded for allegedly committing a similar crime.
Jere, who came from Mpherembe in Mzimba, was found dead on Tuesday around 5am, exactly 14 days into his two-month jail term having failed to pay a K40 000 ($58) fine ordered by Emchisweni Magistrate’s Court where he was convicted of unlawful wounding.
Malawi Prison Service regional prison spokesperson Austin Mwasangwale on Wednesday ruled out the struggle for space, referring all questions to Malawi Police Service (MPS), which dispatched investigators to the colonial prison soon after the killing.
However, Mwasangwale later called back to say: “I want to refute that this is a result of congestion. The truth is that the deceased was slammed to the wall by a murder suspect with mental challenges before his fellow inmates pushed him into the toilet where he was found dead yesterday [Tuesday] morning.”
According to Mwasangwale, the suspected killer is on medication pending determination of his mental state when trial begins as he has been violent lately.
However, prison warders and police officers close to the case told The Nation: “Block B was so full on the fateful night that the deceased decided to go and sleep in the toilet where he was beaten to the extent of collapsing after touching the murder suspect while turning in his sleep.”
Congestion is said to have cost the life at a time a cell block for 400 inmates, which was constructed by Centre for Legal Assistance (Cela) with financial assistance from Norwegian Embassy, has stayed idle a year after completion.
However, Cela on Wednesday said it was pathetic that prisoners were dying because the prison service is reluctant to meet its obligation.
The cell, which is turning into a white elephant, lies side by side with another 250-capacity cell funded by former vice-president Khumbo Kachali, which has been under construction since 2012.
In an interview, Prison Inspectorate chairperson Ken Manda said his body would thoroughly investigate the death.
Manda, who is also a judge of the High Court of Malawi, said the inspectorate is negotiating for construction of new prisons, adoption of parole system, a residential committee on pardons and a high-level meeting to ease overcrowding.
Northern Region Police spokesperson Maurice Chapola said the law enforcers were waiting for post-mortem results from Mzuzu Central Hospital.