If Zambia is truly a Christian nation then we must bow our heads in shame at the inhumane levels of overcrowding in our nation’s prisons.
As Zambia Correctional Service Commissioner General Percy Chato commented last week: “Overcrowding results into undesirable conditions which impact negatively on the correctional activities. If not controlled it can bring communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis as well as violate human rights.”
A 2010 investigation by Human Rights Watch was even more strongly worded: “Zambian prisoners are starved, packed into cells unfit for human habitation, and face beatings at the hands of certain guards or fellow inmates. Children, pregnant women, pre-trial detainees, and convicted criminals are condemned to brutal treatment and are at serious risk of drug-resistant TB and HIV infection.”
That 2010 report was entitled “Unjust and Unhealthy: HIV, TB, and Abuse in Zambian Prisons”. At that time there were 15,300 inmates. 6 years later we find out the situation has only gotten worse with more than 20,000 inmates housed in spaces reserved for just over 8000.
This country claims to be a “Christian nation” yet turns a blind eye while the police and justice system fill our prisons to bursting. Even worse, the vast majority of inmates are poor and marginalized Zambians held on petty theft and non-violent charges, while the rich and powerful commit crimes without fear of prosecution.
This is precisely the opposite of Jesus’s core message of care and compassion for the poor and downtrodden.
Speaking of his ministry, Jesus said: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
In fact the Bible is clear on the issue of how we should treat the poor and vulnerable in society:
“Learn to do right; seek justice, defend the oppressed; take up the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” (Isaiah 1:17)
“Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them; [and] them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” (Hebrews 13:3)
“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute.” (Psalm 82:3)
“Do not exploit the poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and exact life for life.” (Proverbs 22:22-23)
“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Make no mistake about it, Jesus would not support how we mistreat and neglect our brothers and sister (and even children!) in prison. Instead he would walk among them with love and compassion.
Zambia may be a “Christian majority” country. However, until we release the masses of non-violent citizens who are rotting in prison due to our own harsh laws and judgmental attitudes against them, there will be little salvation for the rest of us.