JUSTICE Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi has said processes are underway to amend the recent clemency order and ensure more categories of prisoners benefit from the Presidential amnesty as an urgent measure to decongest prisons.
Government is also working on transferring inmates from heavily-congested prisons to less-populated centres to promote social distancing.
Early this month, President Mnangagwa exercised his constitutional powers of mercy to effect the amnesty to reduce the prison population to levels that could be accommodated safely.
Only 1 680 were released, a figure far off the targeted 5 000.
The country’s prisons, whose holding capacity is 17 000, had about 22 000 inmates prior to the amnesty, but the figure dropped by 1 680.
Only 53 women benefited from the amnesty after it turned out that most of them committed specified offences like murder, robbery, carjacking, sexual offences and public violence.
Women prisoners who have served at least half their effective sentence, juvenile prisoners who have served a third; those sentenced to 36 months or less who have served half and those over 70 who have served half qualified for release as long as they were not serving for specified offences.
Offenders excluded from the amnesty include those convicted of murder, treason, rape or any sexual offence, carjacking, robbery, stock-theft and public violence, plus any conspiracy, incitement or attempt to commit these crimes or being an accessory.
Also excluded are prisoners who benefited from a previous amnesty, those jailed by a court martial, which would apply to certain offences by members of the defence forces and prisoners with a record for escaping from lawful custody.
Minister Ziyambi said Government was working on amending the clemency order to allow more categories of prisoners to benefit.
“As a stop-gap measure, we are in the process of amending the clemency proclamation so that it includes other categories of offenders in a bid to reduce the prison population.
“We are also considering transferring some categories of prisoners to other jails that are not crowded as a way of maintaining social distance in light of the Covid-19 pandemic,” he said.
Minister Ziyambi said Government was also planning to construct new prisons.
“Our prisons were constructed long back when our national population was around seven million, but the figures have now ballooned to around 13 million people.
“That calls for expansion of prison facilities to accommodate more offenders. To that end, we have approached Treasury for funding,” said Minister Ziyambi.
Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare has remained overcrowded by 94 percent despite the recent Presidential amnesty that freed prisoners. Only 19 inmates qualified for amnesty in the section of most serious offenders, resulting in the population insignificantly dropping from 2 654 to 2 635.
The current population remains close to double the prison’s ideal holding capacity of 1 360 and the situation has strained the prison’s resources, including food and water supplies.
Chikurubi alone requires 1,6 tonnes of maize meal daily and the authorities are struggling to source the scarce commodity.