MANY Zambians will be shocked to learn that for spending one year in prison after being sentenced to 12 months imprisonment with hard labour, at the end of his sentence the freed inmate will go home with K3.65n as his ‘‘take home pay ‘’.
But this is what the law says: that all the prisoners incarcerated in all of Zambia’s correctional facilities will be paid 1n, 2n or 3n for their labour to the State for offending the county’s laws. This is in accordance with their professional skills and perhaps academic qualifications.
The question is, what happens when these inmates are finally released at the end of their sentences, some of which could be three years or more? One man was last Thursday sentenced to 12 years with hard labour for being found with a gun at the scene of an aggravated robbery. He did not take part in the robbery, the court said.
This man will be paid less than K50 at today’s rate if he serves the entire sentence of 12 years. He may also use part of it as his transport fare to his home village. WHAT JUSTICE!
It is therefore gratifying that the Government has taken note of this ‘‘injustice’’ and are doing something about it. The Zambia Prisons Service announced yesterday that the Government is reviewing the system of rewarding inmates for their labour at the end of their sentences.
The Prisons Service says that the archaic legislation which pegged the payment of prisoners at such pittance would soon be amended together with other oppressive laws surrounding the Zambian penal system in order to bring it in line with progressive international frameworks which are so sensitive to human rights and the well-being of the prisoner.
A Zambia Prisons Service spokesperson assured Zambians that in the spirit of Christmas and the New Year, these laws and regulations will be changed, adding ‘‘such generated income to a discharged prisoner cannot make meaningful impact to enable such person start a business and sustain himself’’.
The Government accepts that offenders released from confinement after so many months, years or life imprisonment faced a variety of major challenges to re-engineer their lives or professions which might hinder their ability to re-integrate into society and become law-abiding citizens again.
The key feature of successful crime prevention, according to the experts and proponents of prison reform, is that prevention strategies must centre around the interventions designed to reduce the chances of the prisoner repeating his anti-society activities.
“It is against such backdrop that the Zambia Prisons Service has included the prisoners’ earnings scheme, dietary scale and parole as some of the provisions under consideration for revision,’’ the spokesman said.
The Government has led the way in decongesting prisons by the calculated release of hundreds of reformed inmates over the past four years, many of whom have successfully and smoothly settled down in their respective areas. There are no reports or evidence of increased crime in these areas as a result of the freed former prisoners.
This shows that the Government policy of paroling hundreds of inmates, some of them gravely ill or too old to serve their sentences, is working and enhancing the penal and justice system in the country.
There is no need to keep thousands of able-bodied citizens locked up in over-crowded, filthy and inhuman facilities just because society wants them punished, some of them for stealing a comb of maize or trespassing into someone’s yard.
This is not justice. It is collective and institutionalised form of official retaliation or revenge against those who transgress the law. This has nothing to do with the principle of correction or reform. It is simply a national disgrace.
We applaud the country’s leadership for pardoning 502 prisoners recently to mark Christmas. This is humanity at its best.