Govt commits to speedy review of Prison Act

Govt commits to speedy review of Prison Act

Ministry of Homeland Principal Secretary  responsible for legal services Steve Kayuni says government will continue engaging stakeholders to fast-track the review of the Correctional Services Bill so that it finds its way to Parliament.

He said this in Lilongwe yesterday during a multi-stakeholder meeting aimed at discussing the Bill.

Kayuni said government is treating the matter as urgent.

He said: “The Cabinet has advised that the special report on prisons be drafted into a bill. We have also submitted all that needs to be done. What remains is the drafting of the Bill. We will continue to engage so that Bill finds itself in Parliament.”

The Bill seeks to introduce a parole system, open prisons and halfway houses, enhance powers to the Chief Commissioner and Chief Justice to take action on decongestion, and refocus the prisons administration approach from punishment to rehabilitation and reform, in line with international human rights norms.

A cross-section of participants to the meeting

In an interview on the sidelines of the meeting, Parliamentary Committee on Defence chairperson Ralph Jooma said legislators are eager to see the Bill so that the welfare of prisoners can improve in the country.

He said: “This is an urgent matter to us, so once it comes to Parliament, we will definitely pass it. We are also aware that for it to pass in Parliament we need to amend the Constitution by removing the word prison and instead using correctional services, and we are ready to do that.”

In his remarks, Commissioner General of Prisons Masauko Wiskot admitted that the country’s prisons are overcrowded and conditions are deplorable, which is against the principles of human rights.

He said: “The conditions need to be improved; and the proposed bill will help us to do away with some of these challenges. For instance, introducing parole systems where prisoners serve sentences from their houses; halfway houses and open prisons will help to decongest the prisons.”

On his part, Centre for Human Rights Education, Advice and Assistance executive director Victor Mhango said their main concern is that Malawi is using a law which was enacted in 1956.

The country’s prisons have 15 140 inmates across the 31 prison formations against a total holding capacity of 7 000. The overcrowding challenge has led to shortage of sleeping space, food and also affects the provision of social amenities.

The stakeholders meeting drew participants from the Malawi Human Rights Commission, Chreaa, Reprieve, Irish Rule of Law International, Southern Africa Litigation Centre, and the Paralegal Advisory Service Institute, among others.

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