By Paidashe Mandivengerei
VETERAN talk show host, Rebecca Chisamba has begun an advocacy campaign to persuade authorities at the Zimbabwe Correctional and Prisons Services to establish an open prison for female inmates with children.
Chisamba in an interview with NewZimbabwe.com said the system which is already in use at Connemara in Gweru for male prisoners could help in creating a good environment for children whose mothers are serving time, to grow without the negative influence that comes with jail.
“The female inmates have children and in jail curfew begins at 3pm, so the innocent infants who need to be outdoors are stuck in an environment that is not conducive for their upbringing.
“In an open prison children can grow in a place they navigate freely in, convicts can earn back the community’s trust when they go home,” Chisamba said.
“Sleeping is an important part of growing up and in the prisons there are a number of children with different sleeping timetables. When one (child) wants to rest and take a nap another will be crying so it will be difficult for the others to get adequate sleep.”
Zimbabwe’s prisons are also known for overcrowding and easy spread of diseases like tuberculosis. Chisamba said the environment in the country’s penitentiaries is unhealthy for minors who have committed no crime.
“The jails are too crowded and they can only eat at designated times, which is unhealthy for the toddlers,” she said.
According to Chisamba the ZCPS has welcomed her suggestions and plans are now afoot to see the feasibility of establishing such institutions.
“I invited the ZPCS to my programme and they are quite happy to introduce more open prisons.
“The prisons are referred to as ‘correctional’ but our system punishes convicts, there is one toilet for so many people, the conditions are vile.
“Women have a different lifestyle as compared to men, they need privacy and the environment they are in infringes this right,” Chisamba added.
“Yes they committed crimes but they are still people and should be treated as human beings, they still have rights.”
Under the open prison system prisoners serving short sentences for specific crimes identified as less harmful to society are committed to a less restrictive environment. Those committed to this system have access to their families with some even being allowed to go home and visit until their complete their sentences, making it easy for them to be integrated back into society.
Government has already committed to establishing the open prison system to accommodate women.
Connemara Prison caters for less than a hundred male prisoners.