â€œDEATH trapâ€ is the best term to describe horrific conditions at the countryâ€™s 55 prisons, which have over the years been underfunded because of the economic meltdown.
There are critical shortages of food, uniforms for both wardens and inmates, water and electricity and those who have served their terms and came out of the prisons alive consider themselves lucky.
â€œI still cannot believe that I survived three years at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison where I was treated less than an animal,â€ said Thomas Chamboko (not real name) who served time for theft and was recently released.
He said there was little food to feed the prisoners and that the water supply at the prison was erratic, exposing inmates to numerous diseases.
â€œWe would go for days without water resulting in us spending long periods of time wearing dirty clothes and our cells were dingy and smelly,â€ Chamboko recalled.
He claimed his was one of the lucky few who managed to leave the prison without catching a deadly disease in the overcrowded jail.
Chamboko said due to water cuts and poor hygiene, sanitation was a major concern at the prison.
â€œOn many occasions because of no water, sanitation consisted of one bucketful of water for washing and drinking that was placed in a corner of a multi-occupied cell,â€ he explained.
Chamboko said most toilets at Chikurubi were not working.
â€œInmates in cells without toilets ended up using the bucket for relieving themselves,â€ he said.
Even those serving short sentences now consider going to jail a death sentence. Earlier this month, Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku in a ruling in a constitutional application by detained human rights activist Jestina Mukoko, noted the pathetic conditions in prison after considering an affidavit submitted by an independent medical doctor, Frances Lovemore, on the state of Chikurubi.
Lovemore in her affidavit said: â€œThe facilities at Chikurubi were rudimentary and I could not carry out proceduresâ€¦where one needs equipment such as x-rays, in addition there was neither water nor electricity at the facility where I examined the applicant.â€
A local non-governmental organisation, the Zimbabwe Association for Crime Prevention and Rehabilitation of the Offender (Zacro), recently released a report in which it revealed the inhuman conditions prisoners live in at most prisons across the country.
The organisation found that because of overcrowding, the countryâ€™s prisons were faced with problems of unhygienic conditions, lack of proper food, medical facilities and care, spread of diseases â€“â€“ in particular HIV â€“â€“ and opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis (TB).
The association said in the report that sick inmates with communicable diseases were not quarantined â€“â€“ a situation that saw those affected by opportunistic infections infecting others.
The report reads: â€œAs a result, overcrowding was one of the predisposing conditions for the spread of diseases such as HIV and Aids and opportunistic diseases like TB and cholera which resulted in the deaths of some. (These) continued to be recorded at various prisons, mainly Chikurubi Maximum and Harare Central prisons among others.â€
Zimbabwe is one of the countries with the highest HIV prevalence rates in the world and prisons have not been spared the effects of the pandemic.
According to the report, at least 10 000 people in prisons were living with HIV and Aids and their needs were being neglected.
â€œAlthough antiretroviral drugs (ARVs) were available, the treatment was not accompanied by proper nutrition. Inmates in most prisons were surviving on just two meals a day, and at least two prisoners died every day as a result of hunger and disease,â€ said Zacro.
It said the main problem was that nutritious food was not available, which was necessary to boost immunity of inmates affected by the pandemic.
Because of the shortage of drugs, prisoners were obliged to buy their own medicines through their relatives, but the escalating cost of medicines meant that many families could barely afford this extra expense. Â
Zacro said prisons have massive food shortages due to low budgetary allocations by the government.
Â â€œFood was available in some prisons with farms while those without farms faced acute shortage of food.â€ reads the report. â€œAt times food provided was not properly prepared and was mostly of inadequate nutritional value.â€
The association said shortages of basic needs like cooking oil and sugar continued to affect operations of prisons and welfare of inmates.
The report said the general prisonersâ€™ requirements prescribed in statutory instrument 1 of 1996 fell far short in the prisons.
According to the statutory instrument, prisoners are supposed to be given bread, tea, margarine or jam, milk and sugar, among other basic needs.
Many of the female prisoners did not have cleaning facilities such as detergents, brooms and protective clothes when cleaning cells and toilets.
Lack of sanitary facilities prompted inmates to tear up their ragged blankets when relieving themselves in the toilets, which frequently saw ablution facilities blocking. The health hazards associated with this practice remained a major worry to the inmates who did not have soap to wash their hands, bodies or uniforms.
In a damning report on the funding of the Zimbabwe Prison Service (ZPS) to parliament, the Justice ministry last year said it was battling to feed and buy uniforms for over 25 000 inmates throughout the country.
The ministry said under the goods and services subhead, the ZPS had requested $64,8 trillion and was allocated $63,8 trillion and this impacted drastically on the well being of both prisoners and wardens.
â€œThis item is the most problematic as it takes care of the basics such as food, clothing, medication, bedding and toiletries,â€ read the report. â€œFrom 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.â€
The ministry said the ZPS struggled to feed inmates resulting in malnutrition in prisons.
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.
â€œSome of the uniforms such as the barathea suits, caps and accoutrements require foreign currency to be procured,â€ the report read. â€œAs 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.â€
It also noted that there was also shortage of blankets in the prisons.
â€œBlankets purchased for the past years have not been enough to cater for even one prison complexâ€¦The few blankets that may be available will force many inmates to share a blanket, which may result in nefarious activities taking place,â€ 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.
There was great need for adequate bedding and uniform requirements in the prisons. In fact shortage of uniforms was a major cause of concern in prisons.
Many times prisoners were seen wearing tattered and torn uniforms while there were also reports of prisoners going almost naked while they had the right to proper clothing like other people.
Most inmates have one pair of shorts and shirts apparently tattered and torn and rarely washed due to inadequacy of water and soap.
Indeed the countryâ€™s prisons have become death traps.
BY LUCIA MAKAMURE