OVER 4,000 people are languishing in Zambian prisons awaiting trial for as many as 10 years due to lack of decentralisation in the judicial system and misfiling of case records, says Prisons Care and Counselling Association (PRISCCA) executive director Godfrey Malembeka.
According to Zambian laws, suspects are supposed to be presented before court within 48 hours of arrest.
The 4,000 suspects are part of an estimated prison population of 20,000 whose prison capacity is around 8,000.
As at 2013, Zambia had 88 incarceration facilities with standard prisons standing at 54, while open-air prisons were 33 and one juvenile reformatory.
Dr Malembeka said it was unfortunate that so many people had to endure prison life despite not having been convicted for the alleged offences.
Dr Malembeka said lack of decentralisation in the country’s justice system has greatly contributed to the delays in the delivery system of justice.
“There is need to fully operationalise the National Prosecutions Authority (NPA) to allow the different organs of the system work independently to dispose of matters quickly.
“In fact, there were over 5,000 inmates in prison without trial in 2015 but we have managed to reduce that to 4,000 now although that is still too much,” he said.
Dr Malembeka explained that most affected suspects were those in rural areas where they had to wait long periods without High Court sessions.
He was commenting on the five suspects who have applied for habeas corpus in court, some of them incarcerated for over 10 years without trial.
Dr Malembeka complained that it was unfair and against human rights to unnecessarily lock up suspects without trial, and appealed to the DPP to hasten the process of committal to the High Court to allow for quick disposal of cases.
He explained that PRISCCA had been carrying out prison awareness programmes to educate inmates on their rights as suspects as well as convicts.
Dr Malembeka said it was gratifying to note that some suspects have taken action against the Attorney General for their continued incarceration without trial.
He said they would try and follow-up the application currently before the High Court to see how they would help the five get justice.