The New Mwembeshi Maximum Security Prison in Mumbwa is set to open next month. According Percy Chato (Commissioner of Prisons) around 90% of the construction works have been completed. The facility is being constructed at the cost of K65 billion and will have to accommodate six hundred inmates. The idea is that the New Mwembeshi will help decongest the appalling Mukobeko maximum prison in Kabwe which has overcrowding way beyond 100%.
The few prison places this will deliver of course wont do much to deal with appalling prison overcrowding in the country - currently estimated at 209%. Very little prison capacity has been delivered since the colonial era. But even without additional capacity we are not doing well. We need to get remand down! 1 in 3 prisoners are presumed innocent and being held on remand. If we can reduce on that through more efficient court processes we can reduce on remand. The recent ramp up in court capacity should be put to effective use.
Also we need to row back on custodial sentences. There many custodial sentences which are churned out for minor offences like stealing a cob of maize, petty thieving, bouncing cheques has not helped. Its clearly much more effective to impose monetary fines and where they cannot pay, community based sentences should be explored. These ideas of course have "retributive justice" problems. The punishment clearly has to fit the crime and therefore government needs a better criteria for how certain offences are define as crimes in the first place rather than civil offences.
The Human Rights Commission has also helpfully noted the need for a serious look at the "rehabilitation agenda". In their words, "The Commission is greatly concerned that today, Zambian prisons still echo the times when such facilities were viewed as places of punishment instead of being centres for rehabilitation of offenders who would later be integrated back into society after serving their respective sentences". What they have in mind are initiatives like this donor funded project which is designed to help get prisoners back to school.