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Shortages cripple prisons

Constantine Chimakure

ZIMBABWE’S 65 prisons have been hit by a critical shortage of food that has culminated in some inmates suffering from malnutrition and a

medical condition called pellagra, among a plethora of other problems facing the country’s penal system due to inadequate funding.

In a damning report on the funding of the Zimbabwe Prison Service (ZPS) to parliament, the Justice ministry said it was battling to feed and buy uniforms for over 25 000 inmates throughout the country.

The country has 43 prisons and 22 satellite jails.

The ZPS said it was allocated slightly above $149 trillion in the 2008 budget against its request for $286 trillion — 52% of what it bid for.

As a result, the ministry said prisons would not be able to adequately pay for goods and services, military procurement, maintenance of equipment and buildings; staff transfers and programmes, acquisition of fixed capital and funding of Sadc prisons games next year.

The ministry said under the goods and services subhead, the ZPS had requested $64,8 trillion and was allocated $63,8 trillion and this would impact drastically on the well being of both prisoners and officers.

“This item is the most problematic as it takes care of the basics such as food, clothing, medication, bedding and toiletries,” read the report. “From our bids against the allocation it shows that we have a deficit of $10 432 845 600 000 and this will impact negatively on the procurement of rations for prisoners.”

The ministry said the ZPS this year struggled to feed inmates resulting in malnutrition in prisons.

“During the 2007 fiscal year we have been struggling to provide prisoners with barest food items, that is sadza and cabbage (soup of cabbage) without cooking oil. The unbalanced diet has led to malnutrition and to a medical condition called pellagra,” the report read. “Malnutrition put a strain on the (prisons’ department of) medical supplies and services, which is also under- funded.”

Pellagra is avitamin deficiency disease caused by dietary lack of niacin (vitamin B3) and protein.

The ministry said rations took the bulk of the allocation of the ZPS’ institutional provisions since the prices of basic commodities were always on the upward trend leaving very little for other essential such as medical supplies, clothing, bedding and toiletries.

The ministry said uniforms for both inmates and officers have never been adequate for a long time now.

Most prison officers, the ministry added, have not received a full complement of their uniforms for the past five years and the uniforms they have were totally worn out.

Those who have been recruited during the same period have not received trench coats, jerseys, barathea suits and caps.

“Some of the uniforms such as the barathea suits, caps and accountrements require foreign currency to be procured,” the report read. “As for inmates the situation is even worse since inmates exchange the same clothes when they go for courts or to gangs thereby exposed to infectious diseases.”

The report said there was also shortage of blankets in the prisons.

“Blankets purchased for the past years have not been enough to cater for even one prison complex…The few blankets that may be available will force many inmates to share a blanket, which may result in nefarious activities taking place,” the report added.

It said the lack of tissue paper in prisons had resulted in the blockages of drainage system and sewerage pipes as inmates resort to using pieces of torn blankets.

“Paying for utilities will remain a mammoth task given the hikes in water, electricity, rates, and other service charges. Water and electricity cuts will remain the order of the day during 2008 fiscal year,” the ministry said.

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