Zambian prison are congested because of the very high legal fees charged by lawyers in the country, says Prisons Care and Counselling Association (PRISCCA) executive director Godfrey Malembeka.
Many prisoners, he said, continued to be incarcerated due to lack of legal representation because of high legal fees being charged by lawyers in the country.
Dr Malembeka said 70 percent of the 20,000 prisoners were youths between the ages of 18 and 35 who involved themselves in petty crimes because of poverty, unemployment as well as other illicit activities.
“It’s a sad situation in prisons; you find that cases that do not necessarily require custodial sentences have stalled due to unaffordable legal fees and lack of representation in the courts. Most of these remandees and suspects are our youths between the age of 18 and 35 who involved themselves in petty thefts due to poverty,’’ he said. Dr Malembeka said that the prison holding capacity stands at 8,150 although the number of prisoners stands at 20,000, which has negatively impacted on congestion, resulting in the spreading of airborne diseases and inhumane living among prisoners.
He said that most of the cases did not necessary require custodial sentences as most of them involved youths who were likely to be sent to reformatory prisons such as Katombora or given a suspended sentence but that justice was always delayed.
Dr Malembeka has since urged law firms in the country to offer free services as often as they can if this situation is to change. He has since called for more funding to the Legal Aid Board as this will enhance and speed up its operations.
He said that law firms were required to offer 20 free cases per month but that this is not being adhered to and called on the Law Association (LAZ) to pursue such law firms.
Dr Malembeka said that the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) needs to have specific roles for investigators and prosecutors.
“You will find that the same police man is an investigator and also a prosecutor. This has also contributed to backlog of cases before the courts”, he said.
Mr Malembeka said that only four out of 10 provinces have resident judges hence, law firms were only interested to go to such places as that is where the money is, but what of the rural areas?
By press time LAZ President George Chisanga had not yet responded to a press query sent to him.