PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe last week granted amnesty to all female prisoners except those on death row or serving life sentences. This came as Treasury struggles to meet the costs of running a government whose revenue continues to dwindle due to the liquidity crunch currently gripping the nation.
Candid Comment,Faith Zaba
Mugabe also pardoned male prisoners under the age of 18, regardless of the crimes committed and those over 60 who have served two-thirds of their terms. Over 2 000 inmates were released across the country in an effort to decongest the 46 prisons in the country, whose holding capacity is 17 000 but have close to 20 000 prisoners. The amnesty has virtually emptied Chikurubi Female Prison, leaving only two inmates serving life sentences.
While it is Mugabe’s prerogative to grant amnesty in terms of section 112 subsections (1) (a) and (d) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, he has an obligation to society. Releasing women, convicted of violent crimes like murder, rape of minors and disabled people and armed robbery, regardless of time served, is anti-social and simply unacceptable.
Incarceration is just one of the many forms of punishment available to law breakers in society, not just to punish offenders but also to rehabilitate them so that they become law-abiding and useful citizens when they are released. Imprisonment is also meant to deter potential criminals and also protect the public.
While we appreciate that Zimbabwe prisons have become a death-trap due to an acute shortage of resources and overcrowding, this is no excuse for government to shirk their responsibility of ensuring that justice is served and that prisoners undergo rehabilitation. Mugabe needed to balance the need to decongest the country’s prisons and the safety of society.
Among those freed are women who have committed murder, but have not served even a fifth of their sentence sends the wrong message. Some of the women convicted of murder and rape have served six to less than one year in prison. The message is that one can get away literally with murder and be saved through a presidential pardon.
We cannot help but feel for the victims of the freed perpetrators of ghastly crimes who through the presidential pardon have been denied justice. This is particularly so for those whose loved ones were murdered by the freed prisoners. As if losing a loved one was not enough, the victims now have to endure the trauma of watching the perpetrators walk scot-free and roam around the streets.
Government should never prioritise the convenience of emptying prisons over the tenets of justice and fairness.
Freeing prisoners guilty of heinous crimes does exactly that. This defeats the ends of the criminal justice system. There should have been a cut off period of time served and the gravity of the crimes should have also been taken into consideration before the blanket release.
Justice delayed is justice denied, the saying goes, which is bad enough, but by releasing prisoners who have not even served half their sentence, government has completely thrown justice out the window.