FOUR jail guards died during training recently, Zimbabwe Prisons Services boss Paradzai Zimondi confirmed.
Zimondi denied that the trainees’ death in Ntabazinduna, near Bulawayo, was caused by extreme training methods.
Instead, the retired army major general blamed the deaths on underlying illnesses which the trainees did not disclose.
“As for the trainees who died,” he told the Sunday Mail, “it’s not that our training is rigorous, at times some of them have problems which they do not disclose and it is so unfortunate.”
Zimondi hailed the success of community sentences which he said had lifted the burden on prisons which currently have a combined population of around 14,000 inmates.
At least 100,000 other convicted criminals were serving community sentences, he said.
The prisons chief also highlighted the Open Prison at Connemara near Gweru as a major source of pride for his department.
With 120 inmates at any one time, the open prison is home to prisoners who are ready for release back into society – usually inmates serving their final two years.
Zimondi said: “Candidates are selected by a committee we have in place. Inmates move about as they please. Some even have skills training lessons at Kaguvi Training Centre with no officers accompanying them.
“They have their own rooms and have keys to these rooms. They are free to have relatives provide them with radios, television sets and we have a library for those who want to further their studies.
“We allow them to wear their own clothes to prepare them for their eventual release back into society. It’s like a halfway house. In some instances, we allow them to visit their families.
“All this helps rebuild their self-confidence and we do all this with assistance from the Zimbabwe Republic Police.”
As the country battled a severe economic crisis, a 2008 cholera outbreak swept through the prisons and for the first time, Zimondi has spoken of the crisis.
He said: “Prisoners who died were left on the floors of their cells for days on end. The unfortunate thing was that the hospitals could not take them in, so we had nowhere to put them as we waited for their burials.”