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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Barriers to Justice (Crowded Prisons), 3rd Edition

More revelations from Zambia Prison Service on the poor state of our prisons - this time lifting the veil on Eastern Province :
The Zambia Prisons Service has bemoaned the overcrowding in all the prisons centres in Eastern Province. Acting prisons regional commanding officer Robert Mwale said the prisons institutions in the province were highly overcrowded, the situation he said making the operations of the institutions difficult.....He said Namuseche Prisons in Chipata which was built during the colonial era was meant to accommodate 250 inmates but by 06:00 hours yesterday it had a total of 665 inmates....Katete Prisons which was expected to house 50 inmates but currently a total of 199 inmates, while Petauke Prison which is expected to accommodate 50 inmates but currently has a total of 271 inmates...Nyimba Prison was expected to accommodate 65 inmates but this time has 182 while Lundazi Prison by yesterday had a total of 188 inmates instead of the required 58....

Superintendent Mwale also complained that it was taking too long for the courts to dispose off some of the cases of the detainees which he said had also greatly the contributed overcrowding in prisons centres across the province."A number of suspects have had their cases dragging in court for a long time, some have not been appearing for trial since 2009 in order to the court to determine their cases," he said.
We have previously touched on this issue here and here. The obvious answer is more prison capacity, but also we need much broader reforms to ensure that only those who need to be in prison should go to prison. Nearly 1 in 3 people in prison are there on remand .  


  1. Privitization of the Prison service can be an answer to reduce overcrowding. This would also expedite cases that are still pending trial.

    Another solution is to introduce community parole services where people can be on restrictions and perform community service as part of the jail terms.

    House Arrests also would be a solution but in Zambia this seem to prerogative of only the rich. Only KK was under house arrest at one point in 1997 after the failed coup attempt.

    Kunda MK.

  2. Privatisation of prisons? In my opinion, absolutely not. You don't want to give the legal system a financial motive to lock people up.

    However, how about the legalisation of all drugs? That would free up a lot of prison space and would eliminate a lot of non-violent crime. It would also eliminate procurement crimes.

  3. Legalization of drugs would not solve any problems because drugs are harmful and would ruin people's lives especially the youths. The Justice system needs a total overhaul because human rights are supposed to be respected even on how treat prisoners.

    Kunda KM.


    This link is scholarly article explaining the solutions to reducing prison overcrowding.

    Kunda KM.

  5. Kunda KM.,

    Very interesting article from the Germans, with culturally typical attention to structure and detail, scrubbed of as much emotion as possible (which can be oddly helpful in the context of Human Rights at times). I found the analysis very informative on several levels. They score big with the clear imperative to arrive at an agreed definition of "overcrowding" before actual reconciliation of competing positions can be said to have been achieved. At the same time, the Chicago school of debate teaches us that when definition of terms is at the heart of an issue, then the debate simply shifts to the definition, after which the conclusions follow as a matter of course. The definition that they settle on is to defy attempts at definition: "Prison capacity therefore has been assumed to be a 'slippery concept' which expresses the need for elasticity and can be used to make overcrowding more or less apparent."

    Inclusion of African statistics in what is primarily an analysis of European prison circumstances is typically haphazard, and "Southern Africa" is predictably lumped in with the global middle due to S.African billionaires and Botswana's diamond trade. By this analysis Zambia rightly belongs in group 3 with Eastern Africa. In group 3 (p.73, p. 9 in the pdf) we can see that this study reinforces Cho's initial analysis that pre-trial detention is a significant factor in chronic overcapacity in prisons which have been budgeted to handle prisoners based on conviction rates. Perhaps adoption in the specific of the US system of jails for pre-trial detainees and separate prisons only for the convicted would help to highlight this problem.

    The German statistics bear out a global phenomenon where economic booms and higher employment rates decrease crime. Imprisonment rates from May 2009 are still higher than they were in 1987 and comparable to their 1995 figures. Conclusion #16 clearly states, "Recent prison population drops in Germany and in The Netherlands are explained by a decline in crime." Also, the findings on p.81 (p.18 in the pdf), seem to reinforce MrK's point about legalising drugs as a means to reduce populations as most are non-violent offenders, and that the violent can be charged for engaging in violence without regard to drug involvement. On p. 96-97 (p. 32-33 in the pdf), the authors outright call for "Decriminalization, Depenalization and Diversion" of drug offenders. The very next, much longer section deals with some specifics of pre-trial detention reform.

    The 16 points made in the heart of the conclusion cover many specifics gleaned from the research, but the most generally applicable one is listed 9th, "Overcrowding is correlated with the rate of pretrial detainees, the size of the GDP per capita, the degree of inequality, democracy, the extent of perceived corruption, state fragility as well as violence. Overcrowding is not significantly correlated with the prisoner rate at large. On the basis of the pattern of correlations found it can be concluded that overcrowding problems essentially are associated with problems of governance, a weak economy and obvious problems in the criminal justice systems."

    I am not seeing a strong defense of privatising prison systems even in the German context here. I do see support for relaxation of criminal penalties for convicted drug abusers, but not for full legalisation of all ingested substances (which implies lack of arrest or mandatory diversion). To quote from the Thailand example in the article, "solution was found in a law reform which changed the perspective on drug addicts who are now held to be persons in need of medical treatment and are therefore diverted to treatment in the community or in treatment centers." Decriminalisation implies that such diversion will be mandatory and treatment progress will be monitored.


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