Pathetic prison conditions in Zambia endanger inmates, says report

Just the outside of Chimbokaile remand prison in Lusaka tells the story

Prisoners in Zambia suffer malnutrition, overcrowding, grossly inadequate medical care, and the risk of rape or torture, the Prisons Care and Counselling Association (PRISCCA), AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), and Human Rights Watch said in a report released here Wednesday.

Some prisoners are detained for years in such conditions even before they are brought to trial, the groups said.

The report, “Unjust and Unhealthy: HIV, TB, and Abuse in Zambian Prisons,” documents the failure of the Zambian prison authority to provide basic nutrition, sanitation, and housing for prisoners, and of the criminal justice system to ensure speedy trials and appeals, and to make the fullest use of non-custodial alternatives.

Poor conditions and minimal medical care for prisoners lead to the transmission of HIV and tuberculosis (TB) – including difficult-to-treat and potentially deadly drug-resistant strains – that threaten the lives of both inmates and the general public, the report says.

HIV prevalence rates are high, last measured at 27 per cent. While testing and treatment have improved at some prisons, serious gaps remain, particularly at smaller, rural prisons. A ban on condoms makes HIV prevention impossible.

The groups called on the Zambian government and its partners to make immediate improvements in prison conditions and medical care, and the criminal justice system, both to respect the rights of prisoners and to protect public health.

The report says that prisoners frequently spend years in prison awaiting resolution of their case. Over a third of inmates in Zambia are not serving time following a conviction but are in prison on remand, awaiting trial or other legal action.

They frequently have no access to a lawyer or to bail and may wait months even for an initial appearance before a judge, according to the report, while immigration detainees often linger in prison with no due process.

Partly as a result of such justice failures, overcrowding is endemic in Zambian prisons.

Food provided by the government is said to be so inadequate that food has become a commodity traded for sex. Water is unclean, no soap is provided, and bathing facilities are squalid. Many prisoners are not provided with uniforms and wear rags. Blankets crawl with lice.

According to the report, medical care is almost non-existent.

The Zambia Prisons Service employs only 14 healthcare workers to serve 15,300 in mates, and only 15 of the country’s 86 prisons have clinics or sick bays.

Inmates are frequently prevented from accessing health facilities outside the prison based on the sole judgment of non-medical officers and other inmates or bec a use of a lack of transport or security fears on the part of prison officers.

The report called on the Zambian government to take prompt action to improve medical care by installing a clinical officer at each of the country’s 86 prisons, and to decrease overcrowding by scaling up the use of bail, parole, and non-custodial sentencing options.

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