As the Malawi Prison Service (MPS) prepares a list of prisoners to be released in response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, the department has scaled up and tightened measures to combat the outbreak.
Since Thursday last week, the department has been preparing a list of prisoners to be pardoned and also outlined a number of interventions which include suspending visits by foreigners and religious institutions to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
But any pardoning of prisoners will depend on whether President Peter Mutharika will give a nod to recommendations which the Cabinet Committee on Covid-19 will make to decongest prisons.
Minister of Homeland Security Nicholas Dausi said in an interview yesterday that the committee is meeting today or tomorrow on the issue, but he quickly mentioned that matters of recommendations are administrative in nature.
He did not verify whether the committee has already submitted the recommendations to the President despite indicating last week that it will do so shortly.
Chief Commissioner Wandika Phiri said on Saturday during a media briefing that prisons are prohibited from receiving visitors from outside Malawi but they could only be allowed to do so if they have written authorisation from the ministries of Homeland Security and Health.
She said: “All immigrants in conflict with the law are to be remanded to prison facilities where they shall be quarantined for 14 days in the cited established isolation cells for screening before being transferred to the appropriate holding facilities.
“Without derogating the freedom of worship, inmates shall continue to congregate and worship in their usual places of worship under the supervision of prison chaplains who shall authorise the number of congregants based on the officer in-charge determination to attend at a time subject to the existing place.”
Phiri said the visiting law breakers will be remanded at the Old Mzimba Prison (for the North), Lilongwe Female Offenders Section (for the Centre), Mikuyu II Prison (for the East) and Luwani as well Bangula (for the South).
On his part, assistant commissioner of prisons Barzarial Chapuwala said the release will depend on the President’s approval.
He said: “The objective of the recommendations is to decongest the prisons to reduce chances of the spread of the coronavirus among inmates as most of the prison facilities are overcrowded…”
Civil society organisations recently proposed that at least 50 percent of prisoners should be released as a preventative measure against Covid-19. There are about 14 000 prisoners in the country’s prisons whose capacity is 5 000.
While cases continue to rise in neighbouring Zambia and South Africa, Malawi is yet to record a single incident.