Released African Inmates continue to face numerous Challenges in Society.
Many African countries have overcrowded prisons, making inmates vulnerable to the Covid-19 pandemic. Prisoners live in poor conditions, with lack of proper hygiene. With these, the transmission of diseases in overcrowded facilities is rife, placing the lives of both prisoners and staff at risk. Coronavirus has already spread in many prisons, forcing the affected governments to release some inmates to decongest these facilities.
Another country to recently join in on the decongestion process Zimbabwe. The national government is planning to release more than 3000 prisoners, following an amnesty from President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Those to be released had been convicted of non-violent crimes. However, those convicted of crimes such as murder, treason, human trafficking, and sexual offences will not benefit.
(Photo of Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, Harare, Zimbabwe)
For the beneficiaries of the clemency, mostly young men, the pardon awarded them a second chance to become productive and responsible citizens.
At Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Harare, the largest prison in Zimbabwe, the first batch of the pardoned inmates were released on the 17th of April. The young men could not hide their joy after being granted freedom. One of them is a 23-year-old Elton Zivambise, who has promised to use the opportunity to become a productive citizen.
“To the president, we would like to express my gratitude, because this program has been a huge relief, we are very happy with the gesture, we have been awarded an opportunity to apply the skills that we learned as prisoners, we are now going to apply the knowledge outside,” he told the press.
Zimbabwe’s prisons have a capacity of 17,000 prisoners but held about 22,000 before the president’s amnesty.
Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) Officer Commanding for the Harare province, Alvord Gapare, said various measures are being taken to ensure that prisoners are successfully reintegrated into society upon their release. He also praised the president’s move, saying that it came at the right time. ‘It will go a long way to reduce expenditure and the threat of the spread of the virus in prisons,’ said Alvord Gapare. He said prisons in the capital had recorded 173 confirmed infections and one death.
Zimbabwe joins other African countries such as Kenya, Somalia, South Africa, Nigeria, Morocco, and Egypt in releasing prisoners to decongest correctional facilities. This move followed a directive from Amnesty International in April last year, calling on African governments to release prisoners of conscience, review cases of pre-trial detention, as well as women and girls who are in detention with dependent children or those who are pregnant.
(Photo of Samira Daoud- Amnesty International’s Director for West and Central Africa)
“As COVID-19 spreads across Sub-Saharan Africa, the severe overcrowding seen in many prisons and detention centers risks becoming a public health catastrophe, especially given the general lack of health care and sanitation,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s Director for West and Central Africa.
(Photo of prisoners being released from Chikurubi Prison in Harare, Zimbabwe)
In one way, the pandemic has created the perfect justification for releasing people convicted of various non-violent crimes—stopping the virus. But at the same time, it has created the worst possible conditions for their release: They will struggle to find jobs, and increase insecurity fears in the societies. For instance, in Zimbabwe, meet a 33-year-old Richard Mutende, who has been in Chikurubi Maximum Prison for two years now. He was found guilty of having marijuana in 2018 and was to serve three years in jail. He is uncertain of being accepted back by society. ‘I’m happy that my friends and I are free today. However, most of us do not know our fate once we get back to the society,’ said Mutende. He adds that they are likely to encounter Prejudice, intolerance and stereotypes. He says, ‘I do not know how I will start my life again when I get back home.’
Released prisoners have difficulty in securing and maintaining employment after re-entry since employers are reluctant to hire people with criminal records. Re-entering individuals also might face difficulties in finding and securing housing, leading to some of the released inmates experiencing homelessness.
According to Jacob Oujah, a security expert analyst from Nairobi, Kenya, most of the African governments have not prepared the societies on how to accept these inmates.’ It will not be easy for these inmates to find their grip in society. African states are creating more troubles in the societies, while trying to fight Covid-19, said Mr. Oujah during an interview with Zenger News. Mr. Ouja insists that unemployment is one serious problem that will be experienced by most ex-offenders, despite them having the necessary skills and qualifications. Many inmates are worried that a history of criminal conviction and serving a sentence will have a negative impact on their employment prospects.
(photo of inmates in Kamiti Maximum Prison, Kenya)
When Kenya started releasing more than 4,000 inmates on the 2nd of April last year, Andrew Wafula, was among the luckiest to enjoy freedom after being behind bars for three months, having been charged for being drunk and disorderly. He was to serve one year in prison. It’s been more than one year now since he was released, and the ex-offender from Shimo la Tewa Prison in Kenya has struggled to get any form of employment. ‘I have secured more than three different jobs, but eventually got fired from all those jobs when employers got to know of my criminal record,’ Wafula confessed to Zenger News.
(Photo of Mogadishu town)
Somali which has continued to witness increased cases of insecurities due to political instability has been releasing inmates charged with fewer less-offences since April last year. However, according to Chekai Musa, a security analyst from the Horn of Africa, this could worsen the already volatile situation especially in Mogadishu that is always under constant attacks by the Alshabaab militia. ‘President Farmajo needs to proceed with moderation in releasing inmates. They could be Alshabaab sympathizers, and this might worsen the current situation in Somali,’ said Chekai Musa in an interview with Zenger News.
(Photo of Michelle Bachelet- UN High Commissioner for Human Rights)
In March last year, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, called on all countries across the world to decongest correctional facilities by releasing inmates who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, among them older detainees and those who are sick, as well as low-risk offenders. “Now, more than ever, governments should release every person detained without sufficient legal basis, including political prisoners and others detained simply for expressing critical or dissenting views,” Bachelet stressed in the official press release published on the official website of the UN Human Rights office of The High Commissioner. She also directed the authorities to ensure that safety measures are put in place to safeguard the health of all detainees. “With outbreaks of the disease, and an increasing number of deaths, already reported in prisons and other institutions in an expanding number of countries, authorities should act now to prevent further loss of life among detainees and staff,” Bachelet said.
Most African countries have banned people from visiting inmates, in a bid to curb the spread of the Coronavirus in prisons.
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