Facing hell in prison

Being in a Malawi prison causes mental disorders, according to a recent report published by the country’s Prisons Inspectorate. An estimated 1,400 murder suspects have been waiting for their trials since 2006, but are still languishing in overcrowded cells with poor ventilation.

The Prisons Inspectorate has the mandate to monitor the conditions, administration and general functioning of penal institutions. It must take account of international standards. In the report it published in August this year, the inspectorate points out that many inmates spend years behind bars without being taken to court. Not knowing what will happen even the next day causes massive stress. The longer the inmates are kept in jail without trial, the higher their chances become of “developing mental problems as they are unsure of their fate.”

The report also highlights food shortages, bribery and even torture as things that happen in the prisons. Malawi’s penal institutions have an estimated 14,000 inmates, most of whom show symptoms of malnutrition. Many suffer from tuberculosis and are HIV positive. Others are suffering from scabies.

The report further shows that for inmates to finally be taken to court, they or their relatives have to bribe someone – either the prosecuting police officers, the judges or the prison wards.

When contacted to comment on the matter, Smart Malior, the public-relations officer of the Malawi Prisons Service promised to respond but never did. Judiciary spokesperson Mlenga Mvula, however, told the media that several issues contributed to the delay in delivering justice, including lack of funding for the judiciary.

The Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) states that it is a clear violation of the law when courts do not hear inmates’ cases. It means that inmates’ rights are being denied and the judicial system suffers defeat.

Victor Mhango, executive director for the Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) claims that “cases of bribery and corruption within the Malawi justice system are rampant,” adding that government reforms within the justice system are “not bearing fruit.”

Apart from the food situation in the prisons, the Malawian justice system itself has failed many suspects, most of whom have been on the waiting list to see justice being done for over 10 years. In short: Malawi prisons are a hell to stay in.

Raphael Mweninguwe is a freelance journalist based in Malawi.


Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR):

Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance (CHREAA):

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