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Govt in the dock over mentally ill prisoners; some have served their sentences but remain in jail

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By The Sunday Times SA


The government has been taken to court by human rights lawyers over the rehabilitation and welfare of mentally ill prisoners.

Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) demand in an application to the Harare high court that the government release funds to establish rehabilitation centres for mentally challenged prisoners and help them locate their relatives before their release.

The minister of justice, the commissioner of prisons and correctional services, the officer in charge of Chikurubi Female Prison and the health minister are the respondents.

The application seeks an order compelling the government “to disburse funds to enable prison officials to visit relatives of mentally disordered or intellectually handicapped inmates in order to have the relatives depose to social affidavits necessary for them to either appear before the Health Board or to be released,” said ZLHR lawyer Paidamoyo Saurombe.

Saurombe is representing four female prisoners held in Harare’s Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison for murder.

The application also calls for the establishment of “rehabilitation centres to integrate into society former mentally challenged individuals who may not have relatives to accept them back into society following release from custody”.

A prison official who spoke to the Sunday Times on condition of anonymity said there were more than 1,000 mentally challenged prisoners in Chikurubi — more than double the 500 it has the capacity to hold.

Saurombe said prison officials told him a lack of funds was the main stumbling block in the rehabilitation and release of the mentally challenged prisoners — some of whom have served their sentences but remain in prison.

I approached the prison officials to ascertain why it has been difficult to find relatives of inmates who could sign the social affidavits for them so as to facilitate their appearance before the health board or their release as per the recommendation of the board

“I approached the prison officials to ascertain why it has been difficult to find relatives of inmates who could sign the social affidavits for them so as to facilitate their appearance before the health board or their release as per the recommendation of the board,” he said.

“The officials highlighted that financial challenges due to non-disbursement of funds by the ministry of justice have been the hindering factor.

“Prison officials could not locate or travel to locate the relatives of the inmates.

“They insisted that these social affidavits were necessary before one can be placed before the health board or released from prison, and without the affidavits their hands are tied,” Saurombe said in court papers.

“Like any other citizens, the four detainees are entitled to the enjoyment of basic human rights. They have the right to personal liberty, included the right not to be detained and not to be deprived their liberty arbitrarily or without just cause.”