THE Zimbabwe Prisons and Correctional Services (ZPCS) which has not been spared by the Covid-19 scourge, does not discriminate against any inmate but will take appropriate measures that include cutting visits to prisons of families and transfer of prisoners when it is necessary.
This comes as lawyers representing political activist Hopewell Chin’ono and leader of Transform Zimbabwe Jacob Ngarivhume have been claiming that their clients are being discriminated as they await trial on charges of inciting public violence.
The duo’s lawyers, notably Ms Beatrice Mtetwa and the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) have been casting aspersions on the correctional services after Chin’ono and Ngarivhume were transferred to Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison, going as far as claiming that their clients could be poisoned. Ms Mtetwa, who was last week censured by High Court judge Justice Chitapi after she had written a letter attacking a magistrate, is now targeting the ZPCS.
Justice Chitapi reminded Ms Mtetwa that as a law officer she should not assume the role of an activist since there are various remedies which she can always rely on if aggrieved by court outcomes.
However, Ms Mtetwa is now seeking prison standing rules and orders to be altered to suit her client.
This time around, the ZLHR is claiming that Chin’ono and Ngarivhume, who wanted to lead subversive demonstrations on July 31 that were thwarted by alert authorities, are being discriminated while they await trial in remand prison.
ZPCS spokesperson Supt Meya Khanyezi said the Commissioner General of Prisons, is allowed under the country’s laws to transfer or make standing orders without consulting legal representatives of inmates.
“The Commissioner General is empowered to make standing orders and it is in terms of these standing orders that certain categories of prisoners can only have visitors within sight and hearing of prison officers. Transfer of inmates from one prison to another is entirely an administrative issue. ZPCS is not obligated to inform an inmate’s lawyers,” he said.
According to the Commissioner General Standing Order, Part VII Visits and Communication Section 140 (6), “Unless specifically authorised by the Commissioner General, all visits by a legal practitioner shall be in the presence and hearing of an officer who understands the language used and it shall be a condition of the visit that the legal practitioner may only discuss matters arising from his employment as legal representative of the detainee.
In view of the spiking cases of the Covid-19 pandemic and the portent threat it poses in prisons where maintaining social distance is difficult, the ZPCS has also taken measures to minimise contact between inmates and the outside world.
Since the outbreak of the vicious Covid-19 pandemic, that has forced the Government to close essentials as schools, and limit travelling, ZPCS has also ceased in-person visiting of prisoners for the safety of staff, prisoners and the public.
“The decision to suspend the visits was taken with the interest of offenders at heart. It is not a punitive measure but a temporary preventive action meant to ensure that the incarcerated are protected from the Covid-19 pandemic that has affected and killed a number of people worldwide. Although we have recorded cases in Beitbridge, Plumtree, Masvingo, Whawha and Bulawayo we have since put measures to curb the continuous spread of the disease in our prisons.
“This was not a decision we arrived at lightly, as we understand and recognise the importance of family contact with the prison population. Our primary concern has to be public safety and reducing the number of people who enter our facilities is a key factor in limiting the potential spread of this illness into our prisoner population. The department will continue to monitor the situation to determine when visits will be restored,” said Supt Khanyezi.
He said since convicted prisoners and persons on remand are held in a high-risk environment as facilities are not adapted to face large-scale epidemics, it is important to minimize visits.
“As ZPCS we also ensure that during the Covid-19 pandemic the human rights of all those who remain in detention are upheld while taking the specific needs of the most vulnerable detainees, persons with disabilities, pregnant women and juvenile detainees into account. Any restrictions imposed on detainees should be non-discriminatory, necessary, proportionate, time-limited and transparent”.
While Ms Mtetwa has sought to attack the justice delivery chain, the country’s Correctional Services facilities are administered under the country’s laws and also follow the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for Treatment of Offenders regardless of the person societal standing or connection.
Both Ngarivhume and Chin’ono are being treated just as any other intimates, the prisons spokesperson said.