Building more prisons is not a solution to the overcrowding problem in Zambian prisons, says Prisons Care and Counseling Association (PRISCCA) executive director Godfrey Malembeka.
He said what was priority to improving the prisons in Zambia was to institute reforms in the Judiciary through the decentralization of the system and by reducing the huge backlog of remandees in various holding facilities across the country.
He said the Judiciary needed to decentralise its operations by taking Judges to all the 10 provinces in the country which should help accelerate the court processes and sentencing of offenders.
“Yes, we may need one or two prisons especially for the girls’ and boys’ reformatories. Otherwise what is needed is the rehabilitation of the existing structures including the prisons and the judicial system.
“There is need for the implementation of the National Prosecution Authority Act to take non-violent cases to be presided over by chiefs and headmen to reduce dependency on the judges even for simple cases in the communities,” Dr Malembeka said. He said the Supreme Court must extend their sittings to other provinces from Lusaka and the Copperbelt as the centralization of the dispensation of justice had contributed to the lengthy process of sentencing especially in cases which are beyond the magistrates’ jurisdiction.
Mr Malembeka said Magistrates must be given powers to sentence beyond the nine years threshold to decongest prisons.
“Magistrates should not be waiting for High Court to come and pass sentences of convictions in cases they were hearing, but instead should be given the powers to pass judgment in such matters,” he said.
Dr Malembeka said what was paramount was the rehabilitation of the existing facilities to habitable conditions for the prisoners, including the reformatory nature of such facilities.
He called for quick reforms in the prison systems to help proper rehabilitation programmes for all the inmates because the creation f new prisons would swell up with more inmates and would not sort out the problem in the long run.