Govt austerity hits Chikurubi’s mental inmates

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By Anna Chibamu

FINANCE Minister, Mthuli Ncube’s austerity measures have not only affected ordinary people with the situation equally dire for the country’s prison inmates including those detained on mental grounds.

The country’s biggest penal complex, Chikurubi Maximum Prison, is home to about 300 inmates with mental problems.

A visit by the Thematic Committee on HIV/AIDS, Parliamentary Portfolio Committees on Health and Child Care, Justice as well as Gender, at the prison on Thursday, exposed the dire situation as prisoners complained of shortages of food and drugs with most of those taking life prolonging drugs in danger of defaulting.

Even female inmates have not been spared by the “belt tightening” measures, as they told the committees’ members they had no sanitary wear to use.

Both committed mental patients (detained due to condition) and detained mental patients also gave heart-rending tales of the challenges they face daily.

Prisons and Correctional Services deputy director Health Services Dr Patrick Mhaka said patients are overcrowded at Chikurubi, Harare and the Mlondolozi Institution in Bulawayo, all facing shortages of drugs, detergents and clothing.

“Most of patients who are here should be home because they have committed minor crimes which do not require detention. Even someone who steals bread is found here. It is easy to bring them here but very difficult to let them go because for them to leave, boards have to sit and make decisions before discharging the inmate.

“We need your support (Parliament) because this is not an ideal rehabilitation facility for people who suffer mental illness,” Mhaka reported.

According to Senior Assistant Commissioner Harare Province Alvord Gapare, the Prison runs operational costs of $200 000 a day and now owes Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals which is being owed around RTGS$950 000 in unpaid bills.

“Chikurubi Maximum Prison has a lot of challenges as you have noticed. We are trying our best but our huge debt has contributed to some of these challenges.

We do not have enough drugs except for the antiretroviral drugs which are in stock.

“For example, finances are needed upfront for certain medical services and our bill no longer permits us to continue sending patients who sometimes are turned away without being treated,” said Gapare.