By- The Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) said it has 465 dangerous criminals with mental illness against a holding capacity of 150 at its chikurubi maximum security prison.
One of the detained mental patient inmates is Zimbabwe’s most prolific serial killer, Bright Zhantali, who is also undergoing medical evaluation to determine the state of his mental health.
The Sunday Mail has gathered that about 408 inmates committed to the unit have been classified as criminal mental patients (CMPs), which means their criminal cases are still pending before the courts.
The rest have been classified as detained mental patients (DMPs), a classification reserved for convicted criminals with psychiatric disorders.
About 55 percent of those housed in the unit were involved or are suspected of having committed offences such as murder and attempted murder, while 45 percent are either facing charges or have been convicted of serious offences such as rape and armed robbery.
Zhantali is accused of raping and killing 23 women during a year-long reign of terror that spanned Marondera, Goromonzi, Rusape, Mutare and Macheke.
The suspected serial killer, who hails from Dandamera Township in Concession, Mashonaland Central Province, is believed to have confessed to most of the murders, even suggesting that he may have killed more people.
He is suspected of having committed seven murders between January and March last year.
The Chikurubi prison psychiatrist, Chief Superintendent Christopher Njanjeni, said: “Yes, I can confirm that Zhantali is in the Chikurubi psychiatric unit, undergoing observation and treatment.
“We currently have 465 mental patients in our psychiatric unit against a carrying capacity of 150 patients.
“We have two categories of psychiatric patients — criminal mental patients and detained mental patients.
“Currently, we have a total of 465 mental patients, of which 408 are CMPs and 57 are DMPs.”
He said inmates were only committed to the unit on the orders of a magistrate.
“These people are there for medical investigations after a special ruling by a magistrate when an accused person starts to develop signs of mental illness.
“When a prisoner starts showing signs of mental health problems, the officer-in-charge of the prison reports the case to the nearest magistrate.
“A special board of professionals will then sit to determine whether the patient can be confirmed to be mentally disturbed, in consultation with professional psychiatric medical practitioners.”
He said the inmates are under the care of specially trained security officers.
“On treatment, our manual is the Mental Health Act, which dictates how mental patients are treated, in line with national and international guidelines.
“We have officers who provide physical security and medical staff, who are involved in the management and dispensing of treatment drugs.
“We also have psychologists, who continuously monitor and provide psychological support to the patients.”
The unit, he said, was presently beset by a range of challenges, including inadequate accommodation and clothing for inmates, as well as power outages.
“Medication for the inmates is also a challenge.
“We are currently using first-generation drugs to manage the patients because the modern second-generation drugs are not available.
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Service (ZPCS) national spokesperson Chief Superintendent Meya Kanyezi said there are plans to expand Chikurubi’s psychiatric unit.
“Those who are willing can come on board to help us and the mental patients. These inmates are our brothers, sisters and also Zimbabweans like us,” she said.
“When a person is detained, we expect society to visit him or her.
“When people are sentenced and detained, relatives usually desert them and that is also the case with mental health patients in our custody.
“Society and relatives must visit the patients and bring them goodies from home, which also helps as a form of therapy because, as you know, as ZPCS, we take a correctional approach to the rehabilitation of prisoners.”
National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Ms Angeline Munyeriwa said the authority was guided by the Mental Health Act when dealing with matters pertaining to mental illness or suspected mental illness in accused persons.
“Where an inmate is on remand awaiting trial or during the course of a trial exhibits signs of mental illness and it is brought to the attention of the prison authorities or the knowledge of the prosecutor, the prison authorities or the prosecutor is enjoined in terms of Section 27 (of the Mental Health Act) to report the fact to the magistrate,” she said.
“The magistrate will then make an order directing the accused person be examined by two doctors.”
The examination is meant to inquire into the accused’s state of mind.
“If the doctors make the same finding that the accused is not suffering from mental illness, then there will be no need for a further examination or psychiatric examination.”
However, if both doctors conclude that the accused person is showing signs of mental illness, “then the accused person will be detained in an institution designated for such a purpose for further care and management by a psychiatrist”.
But, if the doctors arrive at contradictory conclusions, an opinion from a third medical practitioner will be sought, “and the court will be guided by the three reports”.
Only the medical experts are qualified to make a finding that an accused person is genuinely suffering from a mental illness.